Guest post By Moe, Larry & Curly
Some time ago the realization that using gasoline to power my car, truck and other tools and generators wasn’t something I could or should bank on. With prices per gallon volatile at best and the possibility that the supply could become scarce, as it has before which of course leads to higher prices, well something to use in addition to gas was a top priority on my agenda.
So first things first, what were the alternatives. Well first and foremost is diesel. Cars and trucks that burn diesel are plentiful and there’s a ton of generators that run on diesel. But just like gasoline, the prices on diesel per gallon are higher than gas. So what’s really gained? Well an alternative to gas that’s about it. And of course a far better fuel choice according to many due to the robust nature of diesel engines. Plus diesel is less volatile than gas, so perhaps a safer alternative as well.
As my research continued I learned about BIO-Diesel and the attributes associated with this alternate fuel. In fact burning BD (BIO-Diesel) had far more benefits that either gas or good old diesel fuel. The environmental impact was far less, the so called carbon footprint, far smaller. The source of BD, spent vegetable oil, was fairly plentiful and converting this spent cooking oil into BD helps the environment as well.
So it burns cleaner, it helps to recycle the spent oil and in some cases the spent oil can be gathered at no cost. Along with being a cleaner fuel source than petroleum based fuels BD is 100% American made! Now the clincher, in some cases, industrious individuals can actually earn money by collecting spent cooking oil from restaurants! So you get paid to take it away and then convert it into BD to run your cars, trucks, generators, just about anything that’s set up to run on diesel, without having to fill it up at the pump.
Now notice I said set up to run on diesel. In older vehicles, I’m guessing pre 1995 or thereabouts, and on some generators, the fuel lines and O rings in are made with rubber. The BD is so pure that’s it can damage these rubber components (break them down) because it’s similar to cleaners and can break down the old school rubber and gaskets used in diesel fuel systems. The answer to this is to install or have installed silicone fuel lines and BD compliant gaskets.
Where I live there are a few technicians that actually perform these retrofits but if you’re mechanically inclined you can usually do this yourself. Read up on it for more info but understand that on late model cars & trucks that run on diesel, there’s no need to change anything. They’re equipped from the factory to run on BD. Check with your vehicles owners manual or dealer if you’re not sure, the info is readily available. As for generators the same applies.
Before going further what is BD? Simply put Bio Diesel is what we’ve come to call the fuel that’s derived from the conversion of vegetable or animal fat oil be it used or new. It’s a relatively/comparatively clean burning, renewable fuel source that uses no petroleum products, although it can be mixed with petroleum diesel and used in compression type engines of course with a few retrofits as mentioned earlier. This stuff is easy to use, biodegradable, nontoxic and doesn’t send anywhere near as many pollutants into the air like its petroleum counterparts.
Now nothing in life comes without a price and although there are many PROS with BD, there are some CONS. For instance, when BD is burned in a vehicles’ engine there’s an increase in nitrogen oxide emissions that adds to the formation of smog. I’ve heard it said that this can be addressed by “TUNING” the vehicles engine but realistically speaking, most people aren’t going to start tuning their engines. So potentially using BD can contribute to smog formation.
Something else about BD is that it has properties that act kind of like a cleaner. So running it through older diesel engines, say pre 1995, can loosen and free up deposits that have built up in an engine over time. As these deposits are loosened and released, fuel filters, fuel pumps and fuel lines can become clogged and may need replacing. This can be expensive. But again, the potential savings might outweigh these expenses. And like I said earlier, it will break down rubber.
Another CON that must be considered is that vehicles run on BD can experience a slight decrease in fuel economy and power. Now if you’re harvesting spent oil free of charge the reduced mileage may not be a concern. And if you’re being paid to remove fuel spent cooking oil from restaurants, well then it may be a non issue altogether. As for decreased power, this can be a deal breaker. But if you blend the BD with standard diesel much of this may become another non issue.
Finally, BD isn’t available at most gas stations. Sure there are a handful that offer it and if you live in an area where BD is commercially produced, the supply at the pump may be readily available. But out on a backroad in a small off the beaten path town, chances are there isn’t any BD at the local gas station. In that case you would be pumping old fashioned diesel.
Overall that’s about it regarding the pros and cons but do the research before anything else.
So how is BD made? Well let me say this this is NOT a “HOW TO” on the manufacture of Biodiesel. For step by step directions do some research and you’ll find more than enough information available to make a two liter batch just to get your toes wet, or a fifty gallon supply.
BD is made via a process known as transesterification, please pardon any spelling errors. I’ve seen this term spelled several ways and I’m not sure as to which spelling is correct, but you get the point, I hope. In a nutshell the process separates glycerine from fat & vegetable oil, leaving behind several byproducts which are methyl esters which is the chemical name for biodiesel and glycerine. We probably all know what glycerin is, that’s right the stuff used in soap and other beauty products, skin softeners, lotions and oils. Fact is you can use the glycerine as soap if you allow it to harden into a bar or as a liquid from a pump dispenser.
Basically the “condensed” version as to how the transformation takes place goes like this (extremely simple overview)…
- Gather spent cooking oil.
- Clean this oil by passing it through a filtered funnel. Heating the oil makes this step much easier.
- Add a few ingredients such as lye and methanol of course at the time in the process as laid out in the directions to manufacture.
- Spin the fuel kind to separate the ingredients.
- Wash the fuel.
- Allow it to sit and then voila! You’ve got a batch of biodiesel. Sure this is highly simplified but again this isn’t a tutorial on converting cooking oil into biodiesel.
Of course you’ll need equipment if you decide to get into this undertaking, but the cost savings can usually pay for the equipment in no time flat. Of course depending upon the system you purchase these figures can and will vary. But after doing the research you’ll learn that you can create a conversion “PLANT” using many items you pull from the junkyard or but at the local hardware store. Basically for a few hundred bucks you can start converting spent cooking oil into clean burning biodiesel.
So although I’m not yet running 100% on BD fuel, I have gathered the components to fabricate a small BD conversion “plant” in my basement and the diesel generator is being run on the BD i’m making at home! My next undertaking is to get a diesel pick up truck that I’ll retro fit to run on BD as well. The smell of it burning is like that of French fries and onion rings.
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