Biodiesel Safety Tips

Producing homemade biodiesel offers many benefits, as long as you keep safety in mind. Check out these helpful biodiesel safety tips before you get started.

| May 2015

  • Sunflower oil
    Making biodiesel can be a rewarding experience, as long as you are prepared to undertake it safely.
    Photo by Fotolia/HappyAlex
  • NFPA signs
    Use a labeling system like these to mark the hazardous materials in your shop. The colors denote the particular type of hazard. Red (top diamond, gray) indicates flammability, blue (left diamond, black) indicates health effects, yellow (right diamond, light gray) indicates instability, and white (bottom diamond) is reserved for special hazards like oxidizers and water-reactive materials. The number indicates the severity of the hazard: 4 is the most severe, while 0 is no hazard.
    Diagram courtesy New Society Publishers
  • Backyard Biodiesel
    Lyle Estill and Bob Armantrout discuss small-scale home biodiesel production, from the basic strategies and biodiesel safety to regulatory issues, in “Backyard Biodiesel.” Biodiesel is economical, fun to make, and better for the environment, and anyone can learn how to make it with Estill and Armantrout’s guidance.
    Cover courtesy New Society Publishers

  • Sunflower oil
  • NFPA signs
  • Backyard Biodiesel

Lyle Estill and Bob Armantrout offer the benefit of their cumulative experience in the biodiesel field in Backyard Biodiesel (New Society Publishers, 2015). Designed to be accessible to everyone, from readers with no prior technical expertise to alternative energy buffs, Backyard Biodiesel covers everything you need to get up and running quickly and safely. The following excerpt is from chapter 12, "Safety."

You can purchase this book from the MOTHER EARTH NEWS store: Backyard Biodiesel.

Knowledge Facilitates Biodiesel Safety

The more you know about what you’re doing, the easier it is to anticipate and avoid accidents. Although making biodiesel is relatively easy, the chemicals we work with can be extremely dangerous if mishandled. Methanol is highly flammable and toxic. NaOH and KOH are highly caustic and can combust when wet. Even used fryer oil and biodiesel can cause dangerous conditions if handled improperly. Take the time to learn the safe way to handle and store all your materials, and you’ll sleep better at night.

Engineered Versus Administrative Controls

In order to reduce the hazard presented by materials and processes, controls are used. Engineered controls are those that are designed and built to isolate people from hazards. A lock on your workshop to keep children away from hazardous materials is an example of an engineered control, as is a timer or float switch that ensures that a tank won’t overfill and spill. Although engineered controls require investment, they are usually well worth the expense. And they are not foolproof.

Administrative controls are rules or procedures that help isolate people from hazards. No smoking in the shop would be an example of an easy administrative control to reduce the risk of fire. Properly labeling materials is another good example of an easy administrative control designed to enhance safety. One long-standing rule at Piedmont prohibits beverages in laboratory spaces. If you are not drinking in the space, you are less likely to take a swig of isopropyl alcohol, thereby saving a trip to the emergency room.

A combination of both engineered and administrative controls is typically used to help minimize the risk of personal injury or property damage.

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