Saturday, October 27, 2012

What is Biodiesel?/Getting Started

What is Biodiesel?
Biodiesel is a "drop-in" biofuel that is "clean burning and renewable" ( and can be used to power and supply current diesel engines with fuel. Currently, the US Department of Energy  mandates a 5% biodiesel blend for all diesel fuels sold at gas stations in the state of Minnesota (
What this means is that there is potential for a clean, renewable fuel source made from completely domestic and renewable sources. "Drop-in" means that you can pour some biodiesel directly into your diesel tank, and your vehicle will run- pretty cool, eh? Most diesel engines aren't designed to run completely on this stuff, but it is completely safe and plausible to cut fuel costs (watch for this post a bit later) by making a few liters right in your kitchen.
On a more complicated, chemical level, biodiesel is really just a fatty acid methyl ester, which is easily made using household products:
Vegetable oil will give the backbone of the chemical formula for biodiesel. Vegetable oil is actually composed of a mixture of triglyceride oils (fats) that are similar in chemical composition. When these oils come into contact with a compound called methoxide, a strong organic base, the triglyceride bonds are broken, and are re-formed with methoxide, creating a fatty acid methyl ester.
Methoxide is not found readily at Cub foods or Wal-Mart, so we'll have to make it ourselves. This is done by mixing methanol (found in Heet fuel additive) with an equal amount (molar ratio) of NaOH- sodium hydroxide- otherwise know as lye. You can find this in the popular drain cleaning agent Drano. An important note is that this needs to be 100% NaOH solid drain cleaner. If not, other side reactions can occur that aren't too safe!

Getting Started
Materials and safety ware

The above picture shows what you will need to make your own biodiesel:
Safety goggles/glasses
Measuring containers
Plastic Bottle (for mixing)
Glass Jar (for heating oil)
Vegetable Oil- 1000 mL
Methanol (Heet)- 200 mL
NaOH (Drano)- 5.5 g
Heat source (stove)

As you can see, everything is easily found at an all-around store like Wal-Mart or Target. Even most grocery stores will have most, if not all, of the necessary materials/ingredients. Safety is always the number one issue, so ALWAYS remember to work in a well-ventilated area with proper safety equipment.
Now, it's time to begin!

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