home biodiesel production
The S.E.E.P Reactor 1.2

experiences, problems, and successes in making renewable fuel in our backyard 

 Biodiesel Diary:  3 years and counting experience with biodiesel


We are still running strong, having expanded the home biodiesel production to include vegetable oil filtration for the Vegfalia.  Still somewhat messy and not fully optimized, the Vegfalia filtration system is, however, portable and can be brought along on road trips!


We are now essentially a fossil fuel free family!  We are up to 750+ gallons of biodiesel produced and even after the $600 purchase of the new Fill-Rite pump with meter, 2 micron Bio-tek filters, and industrial nozzle, we're back down to a total price per gallon of around $3.50 and a net cost per gallon around $1.  The 2003 Jetta TDI has been running smoothly and we finally got our Vegfalia back from getting the 1.9L TD engine transplant and a transmission rebuild.  I started a Vegfalia page after our first "fossil fuel free roadtrip" to Oregon, logging almost 2000 miles on only biodiesel and vegetable oil.  We sold Laura's Volvo wagon as well as my Honda Element and we now are only driving on our homebrew biodiesel and filtered WVO!  Once you start making our own fuel, you start to think more about driving, so we're using our commuter bikes around town as much as we can. 


Well, after 1 1/2 years, we've made 540 gallons of biodiesel in our appleseed processor and driven somewhere north of 13,000 miles on this renewable, CO2 neutral fuel.  With the current batch of homebrew B100, our total cost per gallon will be $3.09, now under the market price for dino-diesel! From here on out, the basic costs will be around $1.00/gallon for biodiesel and $0.25/gallon for filtering used vegetable oil. We currently the Jetta TDI has been running smooth as silk and by next month we'll have the '87 Westy Syncro TD Vanagon running biodiesel with a vegetable oil conversion getting an estimated 28-30mpg. Assuming that we drive a combined 15,000 mi/yr and take into consideration mileage, we'll spend $269 on biofuel as opposed to $1394 for fossil fuel, saving $1125, reducing our cost by 80%, negating the CO2 emissions, and no longer require foreign or domestic petroleum. Granted, it takes time to do all this, but now that I have the process fairly wired, it takes less than 3 hours for a batch of 30 gallons.
I officially consider our biodiesel experiment a success! At the very least, we've broken even, decreased our fossil fuel use, and learned a ton. Plus, from here on out we'll be saving money as well as being part of the solution not the problem.


    Progress thus far:  Since 10/05 we have made 420 Gallons of Biodiesel using used vegetable oil from The Splash Cafe in San Luis Obispo, CA.  We have spent a total of $1665 on our system and supplies thus far (not counting the cars), making our total cost per gallon $3.96, but with an ongoing supply cost of only $1.40/gallon.  By the time we've made 650 gallons or so, we will have brought our total cost down to $2.50/gallon, the current market price for petrol diesel.  From there on out, we're saving money by making our own fuel from renewable, domestic resources.  Impressive. 

We have driven over 8,000 miles in a 1984 Mercedes diesel wagon.  The Mercedes ran very well with biodiesel, the only conversion we had to do was to change the fuel lines to vyton to prevent breakdown from the fuel and change the fuel filter twice over 3-6 months due to the solvent powers of biodiesel and leftover gunk in the tank from petrol diesel.  These can be done fairly easily yourself or can be done for a few hundred dollars or less with a local mechanic.  The mercedes never stalled, never needed other servicing and ran like a classic 22 year jalopy should  - reliably and resolutely.  

Current car:  2003 Jetta TD Wagon, purchased 11/06 and we've driven over 800 miles with no problems.  We have not modified the car in any way from stock to run our home-brew biodiesel and are doing great!  We love the heated leather seats and power sunroof, not to mention that it gets over 40 miles per gallon!.  I'll post a full review of this biodiesel gem soon. 






The actual process is simple - once the processor and wash tank has been built, the only other raw materials needed is methanol and potassium hydroxide.  The basic formula is for every 1 liter WVO add 200cc MeOH and 7g KOH.  Additional KOH needs to be added to account for FFA (free fatty acids) in the oil which is calculated in the titration phase.

Oil Collection/Filtration:  I have tried various methods of collecting the waste vegetable oil from restaurants including mouth siphoning (blah!), siphon hand pumps, a 12V oil pump from northern tools, and "the Guzzler" (a heavy-duty hand pump), all of which were suboptimal in one way or another.  The easiest and least messy way for me is to actually use a handled bucket dipped in the 55 gal barrel of WVO then pour it through a window screen funnelled into a 15 gallon container.  I have 2 black plastic 15-gallon barrels that work perfectly.  I have recently started to take advantage of the color of the container, leaving it out in the sun for solar preheating of the oil.  Using the bucket method, I can collect and filter the big chunks out of 30 gallons of WVO in about 15-20 minutes.  With our new SVO system in the Vegfalia, we'll be using the RoadTote from Vegpower which uses the Fill-Rite 1604 12V pump which has gotten rave reviews from SVOers and biodieselers.  The RoadTote will allow us to filter WVO directly down to 5 micron fuel-grade on the fly provided that the oil does not have much suspended water. 

Titrating for FFA:  Using a syringe measure out 1cc of the WVO, dilute it in 10 cc of isopropyl alcohol (iso-HEET obtainable from auto parts stores) then add 3-4 drops of indicator (tumeric in isopropyl or phenol red).  The titration is using a 1:1000 dilution of KOH in distilled water which makes the final titration a 1:1 result.  Using a 10 cc syringe, slowly drip the KOH dilution into the WVO, isopropyl and reagent mixture, gently swirling at the same time.  A good titration value is under 3, so hopefully you'll see the solution turn pink after 1-2cc or less.  Add this number to the base value of 7 gm then multiply by the number of liters of WVO to get the total amount of KOH to be added. 

Using the processor:  You need to pay careful attention to the various valves and check to be sure that they are opened/closed properly for what you're pumping where. 

Close the valve at the bottom of the processor, place the input/ouput hose into your filtered, hopefully solar preheated WVO and turn on the pump.  The self-priming pump will slowly build the oil to a head then start pulling it into the reactor. 

Turn on the heater (I had to turn the thermostat all the way up), turning on the pump every 15-30 minutes to circulate the heated oil.  This allows you to see the true temp in the thermometer and prevents the thermostat from turning the the heating element off.  Once the oil is up to 130 deg F, it is time to add the methanol and KOH. 

This is where the danger of making biodiesel at home comes in.  Methanol is highly flammable and toxic if ingested as well as having somewhat toxic fumes.  KOH is highly corrosive and will cause serious chemical burns. Girl Mark told us a few homebrew SNAFUs such as the guy who tried to mix the methanol and KOH with a hand drill attachment and the sparks from the drill motor ignited the methanol fumes, taking off the guy's eyebrows and giving him 1st and 2nd degree burns.  Be careful!  When you think that you have a brilliant idea like that, think it over first!

The carboys for this system are 5 gallons and with 30 gallon batches you need 20% by volume methanol, so 6 gallons.  I split this into two 3-gallon batches, mixing 1/2 of the KOH in each.  I use a digital kitchen scale that works well to measure the KOH which is 7 + (titration value) grams/liter of oil used.  To mix I've been just closing the carboy lids tight and swirling, venting occasionally due to the gas/heat produced by the reaction.  Once dissolved, attach the hose from the reactor, set it on the shelf and with the pump on, open the valve to the methoxide tube and slightly close the valve at the bottom of the tank.  While you're mixing the other half, the pump will slowly draw the methoxide in and begin the transesterification reaction to make biodiesel.  

You can see the oil turn milky when the methoxide is mixing in, a sign that you've done it correctly.  Leave this mixing for 1-2 hours, leave overnight and viola!  Drain the waste glycerin off the bottom and you have raw biodiesel on top!  

Washing the fuel: I modified my setup slightly to allow me to divert the raw fuel into the washtank so I can simply close the valve going up and back into the processor and open the valve to the washtank and turn on the pump.  I used a bulkhead fitting to attach the hose to the washtank.  

I have both of the recommended wash methods working well - the misters and the bubbler.  It seems that the bubbler can be too vigorous and cause emulsification (leaving you with a vat of mayonnaise looking stuff) so its recommended to mist first.  I've been misting 3 times, emptying the washwater from the left or low pipe the first 2 times, then using the bubbler with the water from the 3rd wash.  This seems to work well as the water from the first wash is cloudy and soapy, the water from the 2nd wash is clearer, and the water after bubbling is fairly clean.  I use a 120V wand-type drum heater during the bubbling stage and for 24 hours after to help in drying.

Although I was having issues knowing what the level of the standpipe was, my method now is to leave the washwater from the last batch in the tank so it is 1-2cm below the level of the standpipe.  I then transfer the unwashed biodiesel into the tank and use the suction cup that came with the drum heater to mark the high level.  At the 3rd misting stage, I make sure that the level is at or slightly below the suction cup so I know when I open the standpipe, I'll be getting fuel not water.  The other issue is the water that settles into the standpipe during the wash process.  I was getting a bolus of H2O through the whole house water filter inline before the fuel goes into the storage tank.  I re-plumbed this portion of the system so that the Clear Water pump is now pumping the finished fuel through the filter and into the storage tank.  I added a quick-disconnect fitting on the hose going from the standpipe to the pump so that I can drain the water out into a bowl before turning on the pump. 

Fuel storage/transfer:  When the biodiesel has been fully washed, I drain the water out of the standpipe as described and pump the fuel through a 10 micron whole house water filter and into my fueling/storage tank.  I had initially wasted money on the Northern Tools 12V tranfer pump shown below that was somewhat effective for a time, and I have now upgraded to a Fill-Rite 610 15 gpm transfer pump with the biodiesel conversion package, a Fill-Rite biodiesel compatible meter, followed by a Cim-Tek Bio-Tek 2 micron biodiesel particulate and water filter, and an industrial fuel nozzle on a 55 gallon drum strapped to a dolly.  It is a little cumbersome to haul around the yard, but it has been working fairly well.  

Feel free to email me with any questions or comments.  I will at some point take more specific pictures of various parts of my setup upon request.

biodiesel production intro

Girl Mark's homebrew class

The S.E.E.P. environmental blog 

The Vegfalia

How Everyone Can Help Stop Global Warming: The Basics

The S.E.E.P. store 

Slaughter Productions Home 


the system

is built an 8' by 4' shed behind my house for the processor with a 2X6 frame around the bottom coated with a polyethylene tarp to act as a secondary containment unit in case of spills.  Power is a simple extension cord to a power strip and a homemade switchboard for the pump, heater, and bubbler/washer.  Total cost = approx $1000.  This can be done much more cheaply by scavenging many parts. 


the plumbing

and the processor itself is based directly on Girl Mark's Appleseed processor with a few modifications.  It is a Sears 220V electric hot water heater with a 110V element installed - although you can run a 220V heater on a 110V circuit, it is much less efficient than simply changing out the element.  Although the chicago tools water pump worked well enough initially (especially for the price), I changed to a central machinery 1/2 hp self-priming pump, making it easier to draw the oil into the processor.
I also added a t-piece and extra valve above the pump that allows me to divert the outflow to the washtank. 


the washtank

is an upside-down 55-gallon barrel sitting on a milk crate with a standpipe setup.  There is a pipe threaded though each of the bung holes, one approximately 8" high and the other at the bottom of the tank.  A 5 piece mister is attached to the "lid" for the first 2 phases of the washing process and an aquarium bubbler with Girl Mark's modified washer tube is submersed in the water layer for the third phase.


Biodiesel Links:

Collaborative Biodiesel Tutorial


Utah Biodiesel Supply







































































































our first 5 gallon fillup!