Converting cooking oil into BIO-Diesel

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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Comments

  1. Good post the only problem is the “secret” is out about spent vegi oil. Most places – at least in the PNW charge you to take it.

    On a large farm/logging ops with lots of diesel equipment here. Way to go for rugged and reliable. Gas engines not in the same league at all. Some Freightliner and Diamond Reo logging trucks/skidders here are over 50 years old – still running! (retired though).

    • LurkerBob,
      When you stated, “. . . the only problem is the “secret” is out about spent veggie oil. Most places – at least in the PNW charge you to take it.” you pull the thought right out of my head. There is an economic progression where someone has trash that is an expense to have disposed, until someone finds a purpose for the trash and takes it from the original owner who is happy to save the disposal costs, and finally, popularity where the demand outstrips the supply, and then the trash becomes a sellable commodity. This has already happened in many places with waste cooking oil and the prepping community has also seen this phenomenon with food grade buckets. That supply and demand thing works every time a government will allow it.

  2. Much of the oil collected is so clean it will run with just a good filtering.
    A good source of clean oil is Hospital kitchens.
    In cold weather you may need to mix a little diesel with it as it gets kind of thick or run it thru a preheat-er.

  3. Creating wood gas for gasoline engines would be more sustainable for the long term then creating bio-diesel. Since the process needs oil or grease which, like gas, would be cut off due to “grid down” circumstances.

    If Marshall law comes around – the military will “secure” the diesel supply for itself and for any food trucks, gas might still be available.

    Has anyone made a diesel chain saw?

    • charlie (NC) says:

      everyone with a little mechanical know how or a budget to buy some equipment should be looking at wood gas and gasifiers.
      That is what kept the german public alive when Hitler was burning all of the diesel and gasoline in his war effort. There is loads of information on the internet and on you tube about gasifiers including some info from FEMA

    • charlie (NC) says:

      Michael, I keep wondering if anyone has been working on a mixture of substances that would replace gasoline. Maybe something like veggie oil mixed with ethanol or some other organic oil that can be grown or derived at home.

  4. richard muszynski says:

    greetings. about diesel fuel from vegetable oil or used deep fry oil. problems all over the place. have you tried to buy methanol? not on the market other then in drums at high cost, is not a normal trade item in stores. second. here in America it is not a go to the store and buy it when it comes to lye either. Here in Maine you have to get it off the net out of other states and that gets expensive. note BioDiesel is not diesel fuel made out of used fryer oil. it is what you get when you process the fry oil and then mix it with diesel oil. any savings there may be go right out the window, you still need to buy diesel oil to mix it with. and here in Maine the state government has gotten on the bio diesel wagon and have trucks that go about the state and pick up the used oils for use in state made bio diesel that they use in state trucks and buses. this was a great idea when it was only used by a few people. now that it is commercialized it is no longer viable. where as the wood gas suggestion by Michael C is a doable technology in most of the nation. and it does not require ingredients that are not obtainable by people in the country in most of our nation and the world. is always some sort of biomass that one can smolder to run the engine on it. and i understand that one can even run diesel on it with some retiming since the fuel is also the air that the engine sucks in. and with the diesel chainsaws. I used to own a Sach-Dolmar chain saw from Germany that had a Wankel engine. Wankel engines can be run as diesels if designed for it. originally Germany used the Wankel engines to power torpedo’s and air compressors.

    • charlie (NC) says:

      Richard, you can make your own lye. Save the hardwood ash from your wood stove or fireplace. Put it in a barrel or bucket, add water and let it sit. After a time drain the liquid off and cook it down and the result is lye. you can find the recipe online.

  5. It is interesting to note that when Rudolf Diesel invented the Diesel engine there was no such thing as “diesel fuel.” The engine was designed to help farmers and industry become energy self sufficient and therefore used biodiesel as its intended fuel. It was only after the Petroleum Industry discovered that they had a byproduct which could be used to fuel these engines that “Diesel Fuel” as a Petroleum Distillate.

    bio-fuel is what the engine was designed for.

  6. Old Hillbilly says:

    Hopefully I will soon be producing all my own emergency electricity using straight (no other chemicals or processing needed) waste vegetable oil (WVO) to power a 20KW 3-53 Detroit diesel powered generator that was once used in a railcar reefer unit. If you are familiar with these old two cycle mechanically injected Detroit engines you probably know that they will run on must any combustible oil. From all the research I did before purchasing the generator, I found the key is (as has been previously mentioned) filtering the WVO and then heating it so that it not only flows through the fuel line and injectors more easily but also flashes more efficiently in the combustion chamber. There are several ways to do this including the use of a heat exchanger that uses the engine cooling water to heat the WVO in the fuel line just before it enters the injectors. Most of these genset systems use a dual fuel setup whereby they are first started on regular diesel fuel and allowed to run until the cooling system is warm enough to heat the WVO in the exchanger before the switchover is made from straight diesel to straight WVO. It should also be noted that prior to shutting down a setup such as this, the fuel source must be switched back to pure diesel and allowed to run long enough so that the lines and injectors are purged of any WVO prior to shutdown. Failure to do so, especially in cold weather will result in clogged fuel system that will have to be manually cleansed of the thickened WVO before restarting. My research also found that blending the WVO with diesel helps in keeping it fluid, requiring less heating. Also, I found several sources that state they have had good results mixing the WVO with 20% gasoline to achieve the same results. (your mileage may vary on this one as the addition of too much gasoline can seriously damage your engine from what I read) I know that the older model diesel powered Mercedes automobile owners manuals stated that in cold weather the owner could add a measured amount of gasoline to each tank of diesel to keep the fuel from jellings so I figure this is the same principle. The old model Mercedes cars made in the 1985 have become quite desirable now for use as “grease cars” by those that are burning straight WVO in them. It should also be noted that in the absence of a WVO source, straight vegetable oil (SVO) squeezed from oil bearing seeds can be used in the same manner. I am fortunate that I have found a small local restuarant that gives me all their fryer oil each month and another new restaurant opening soon that I can also collect from free of charge. Currently it only amounts to about 20 gallons per month but that is better than nothing and when the new restaurant opens the total should increase substantially. I am preparing a 250 gallon carboy tank as a holding tank complete with a 10 micron sock filter in the top for a prefilter. The oil from there will be pumped into the generator shed into a metal 55 gallon barrel that is wrapped with a band heater to pre-heat the oil prior to going through a final cartridge filter system before going to the injectors.

    These are just some thoughts based on what I have found in my research, noting that I have not yet put any of this into practice, although I have thus far invested quite a bit of time and money in getting all the equipment gathered to build the system. I just hope it works! Anyone else out there using WVO in a Detroit engine?

  7. I know in my neck of the woods restuarants sell the used oil to a local grease recycler. There was even a story the other night of a place that has put locks on their dump bin and the theives still stole the wvo by putting a hose down a gap in the cover and used a siphon to get all the oil out. The bakerys and other places have also caught on and stopped giving away their plastic buckets and selling them for a buck or two. Hard to get anything for free anymore times are just getting harder. I noticed a few years ago that usually our local paper would have 10-15 yard sale ads when it got warm and now some weekends there are 40-50 or more. I know I do not throw anything out if I think I can use it, used to make fun of my grandma who went through the depression and saved bent nails to straighten out and use again.. Smart woman don’t pay for somthing if you don’t have too!!!!

  8. I have a friend who drives an old Mercedes that runs on wonton grease. I have to say, this is a great idea but it’s not too good in practice. It really stinks, especially during the summer months. One time she got oil from McDonalds and at least that smelled better.

  9. Lint Picker (Northern California) says:

    Uh, has anybody followed a biodiesel vehicle up the road like I have? They stink. And they seem to emit some oily residue that surely will gum up everything around them in time. How can something that gummy and stinky be good for the environment in the long run? It’s not like you’re burning kitchen cooking oil only – there are other chemicals that need to be added and those chemicals are not enviro-friendly. I’d bet my last dollar that biodiesel in its present incarnation will ultimately prove worse for the environment than gasoline.

    I’m sticking with my feet. And maybe a wagon or wheeled cart. My plan is to live as my grandparents and great grandparents did 100 – 150 years ago. They had beasts of burden, too, but walked many miles a day and thought nothing of it. I’m getting in shape so I can do the same.

    • Lint,
      One word, Horses. LOL

      • LurkerBob says:

        Not so crazy.
        If you had the space for a burro or couple of goats there is your hauling method for a small wagon or cart. Both of these are more low maintainence than horses.

        Horses are gods way of telling you that you have too much money.

        • Lint,
          “Horses are gods way of telling you that you have too much money”. I actually heard that about cocaine, but when it comes to horses it depends on the situation. We’re down to one miniature horse right now with a rescue goat being added in a few weeks. Once my DD is done with college the DW would like a Mule, but we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. On the subject of the expense of horses, you can spend a lot of money boarding them if you don’t have the facilities yourself. We have several large barns and a small paddock and pasture area, so the expenses are minimmal. Some locally purchased hay and a little feed plus a once per year vet visit for all of the shots and a farrier visit every few months. We keep track of our animal expenses and spend about as much on the dogs as the horse and probably a little more just to feed our herd of barn cats. They key with horses is to have the facilities at your homestead to save both boarding and travel expenses.

          • Lint Picker (Northern California) says:

            No room for horses, mules, or burros at my place. My grandparents used mules and thought highly of them. They had horses, too, but horses were not as rugged as the mules.

            If I got an animal to do some of the hauling, I’d probably get a large dog. The Indians used dogs to haul things on travois, so I’d give that a try. Then you have the companionship and guardianship of a dog as well as the hauling ability. I’m thinking a Bernese Mountain Dog might do the trick.

            • robert in mid michigan says:

              noufandland if you are in a cooler climate they dont do real well in heat. love mine but they slobber and shed like their is no tommorow.

            • Keep in mind that the indians only used the dog and travois because they didn’t have horses in north america until they were brought here by the Spanish in the 1500’s. From that point on, wherever possible they use the horse and travois.

          • LurkerBob says:

            Ohio Prepper

            Horses/Cocaine – same difference, a bad habit to get into.

            We had a couple big 16 hand horses here that started out as riding horses and turned into lawn ornaments (pets). They were pampered into uselessness by the landowners wife. They had about 20 acres to wander around in all day between breakfast and supper – living the horse-heaven life. They weren’t entirely useless, I would open the gate and let them into my yard to “mow the grass” did a pretty good job too. For 15 years I only had to even it out a couple times a year. Free fertililizer too. My dog hung out with them during the day, and when they were let out of the paddock in the mornings they would charge (literally) my trailer about a 1/4 mile away, skidding to a stop at my gate. Why they didn’t kill themselves I will never know. Seeing them charging down upon me like that sure give an appreciation for horse cavalry.
            They are gone now and even though they were basicly useless they were good friends.

    • axelsteve says:

      Lint. good to hear about the getting into shape. I have been walking my dogs lately.I took my Dane on a walk yesterday in the woods and I found out that she is pretty gunshy.A couple of skeet shooters were practicing and she did not like that one bit.I ran into a friend and she jumped into the cab of his truck.Then she hid under the truck. I took her back to the car after that.

      • LurkerBob says:

        Axlesteve;

        Had a doberman once like that. Some dogs just can’t abide gunfire. Their hearing is about 20x humans I think. Never got him used to it, he was so bothered just quit trying. Some dogs are that way, still good dogs though. Talk calmly to her, tell her shes good. Try short exposuers over time and see if that helps.

        The idiot dog I have now runs Into gunfire and has to be restrained around guns.
        Can’t win for losing.

    • Lint Picker, good to hear you are getting fitter…keep up the good work. cheers.

  10. The fast food restaurants around here won’t let you have it anymore. The disposal companies put signs on the bins behind the restaurants saying they will charge anyone who takes the greese out of there bins and the restaurants have to put it in the disposal bins because if they don’t they can be held liable for improper waste disposal.

  11. SixBears has converted two Mercedes and a F250 to run on WVO and used them for extensive cross country travel. He is currently converting a recycled F350 diesel ambulance.

    He has a good blog and is one of my daily reads. He’s at http://sixbearsinthewoods.blogspot.com/2011/11/experimental-vehicle-4.html

  12. SrvivlSally says:

    Moe, Larry & Curly, you did a really good job explaining how simple it is to make and I wish I was already set up making my own. If I had the room, I would investigate the matter further and get started tomorrow. I will be keeping it in mind, though. Thank you.

  13. JackVegas says:

    Good luck finding oil when there is a shortage of oil…

    Unless you live in an area that has an excess of a non-food crop that can be converted to fuel (woody plants or starchy plants like cat-tails) you probably aren’t going to find any “spare” seeds to convert into fuel oil for your trusty stead. Even if you have an excess of something like corn or sunflower seed, if there are hungry people in the country or government agents hell bent on distributing your crop to those less fortunate, you are unlikely to be allowed to convert much of it to fuel.

    Here in the PNW we are blessed with a lot of waste growth that can be converted to fuel. Woodgas from woody plants and forest waste, and at least locally, a LOT of cat-tails whose starchy roots can be converted to alcohol relatively easily. I’ve converted a Honda Civic to woodgas and get about 2.5 miles per pound of wood waste. Next fall I will try my hand at harvesting cat-tail roots and converting them to alcohol. A potential problem is that the starchy cat-tail root is also a good food source. Once people find out, it may be harder to find undisturbed cat-tail patches.

    In the end I think “Lint Picker” has the right idea. Stay fit, and be prepared to walk and perhaps use a wheeled cart for cargo. Actually, rick-shaw transport of materials is a pretty efficient form of transportation on level ground. Properly balanced, once can lift ones feet between steps and “soar” for considerable distances without much effort.

    • LurkerBob says:

      Find a way to convert scotch-broom into fuel and you will be the next J.P. Getty
      or blackberry canes.

  14. Uncle Charlie says:

    Has anyone toyed with distilling alcohol, for fuel that is? It has no pollution and it’s legal with a permit of course, just like everything else.

    • robert in mid michigan says:

      thier is pollution from alcohol and it is higher in some than petro based mainly nitrates but is lower in some. the problem with that is if you want to be honest you also must factor in the distilation process for polution.

      it can be a great fuel but you have to look at the scale you get about two and a half gallons from a bushel of corn and if you are using waste wood or cobs for ditilation you can do alright butu you need a use for the left over mash cattle feed and such.

      in order to make 500 gallons per year low for the average driver you would need to have access to 200 bushels of corn. remember also because it has a lower energy output than gasoline your milage will go down. it has been pretty much proven to be an energy sink rather than a neet energy gane. but if you are using waste to fuel the distilation you can make it work, that and it is more versitil than say corn cobs and the like.

      • axelsteve says:

        I heard of a guy using seaweed. He lives on the northern calif coast were seaweed is plentiful.

  15. Lynda from MA says:

    Great thread. I always enjoy reading about alternative methods that are energy related. I’m a strong advocate of alternative energy and although we wouldn’t find this practical we have invested in both solar panels and photovoltaic cells for our house.

  16. Emergency Preparedness says:

    Just wanted to thank you for the article…great job!

  17. Oh yes, moonshine…..Guaranteed to provide some get-up-n-go !

  18. The problem with using WVO from a doughnut fryer is the LEOs keep following the smell. ;-}

  19. We made some bio-diesel for our F350.about 2 years ago. We used a bought additive and the rest was common “power” ingredients. there was no caustic things in it like lye. When the engine run, it did make us hungry…smelled like french fries.And it run very quiet, not the usual diesel “chatter”. Our mileage went from 19 to 25MPG.. There was no engine conversion needed for what we done, but if you do it, be sure to have extra filters on your engine because it picks up all the impurities that are in your tank. We had to empty our tank and re-filter everything..when we replaced all filters on the fuel system.

  20. Hello all, love reading the comments about WVO, has anyone tried to buy new oil in bulk from the suppliers usually in 55 gallon drums for much less per gallon. I have heard you can buy it in bulk from Costco per pallet just have to ask management to arrange it. Its cheaper than diesel by about 1.50 a gallon.

    Also, lastly has anyone checked out a street strider for transportation?