DIY Home Biodiesel Production: Make Your Own Fuel

Home biodiesel production will help you speed past the gas station on the road to fuel independence. This expert advice provides the necessary know-how for making biodiesel with used cooking oil in a DIY biodiesel plant.


| August/September 2015



Homemade Fuel

Homemade fuel made from used cooking oil can power any diesel vehicle.


Photo by Matthew Flansburg

If you’re steering your household toward a more self-sufficient lifestyle, maybe you’d like to add do-it-yourself fuel to your list of goals. Biodiesel can be brewed from waste vegetable oil or animal fats, which you can collect free from restaurants, or you can grow soybeans or canola to press your own oil. Process the oil with a couple of chemicals to produce homemade fuel that can run any device powered by petroleum diesel — including pickups, cars and home heating systems. Do it right, and DIY biodiesel can cost as little as $1 per gallon to manufacture. The scale is up to you: Brew enough to make your homestead fuel-independent, or join forces with neighbors to produce fuel for your collective households.

At minimum, the equipment you’ll need for home biodiesel production is a stainless steel reactor tank, a wash station to remove the coproducts, and containers for storing the resulting fuel. You can rig up an electric water heater as a biodiesel reactor for less than $1,000, or spend about the same amount on a kit. If you’d rather opt for a ready-made, automated system, expect to pay $10,000 or more.

Safely making high-quality fuel in your backyard will take planning and work, but the freedom and moneysavings of driving down the road on fuel you’ve made yourself are hard to beat.

The Chemistry of Making Biodiesel

Biodiesel production is dependent on two chemical reactions. The first is commonly called the methoxide reaction. It happens when you mix methanol with a catalyst, which can be either potassium hydroxide or sodium hydroxide.

The methoxide reaction is “exothermic,” meaning it gives off heat. Don’t use plastic vessels when creating methoxide. They don’t hold up well to heat and have a tendency to explode or dissolve because plastic can store a static electrical charge. Always opt for stainless steel equipment when making biodiesel.

Sodium hydroxide is commercially produced lye; both sodium hydroxide and potassium hydroxide are available online from suppliers of soap-making equipment. Procure methanol at your local chemical distributor or race car shop (race car drivers often blend methanol into their fuel supplies). In North Carolina, where I live, you can carry 100 gallons of methanol on your pickup truck without special permits or licensing.

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