So you have decided to build your own biodiesel refinery at home. Congratulations. Building your own refinery at home can be fun, easy and relatively inexpensive. Junk yards and local farms may have some of the parts needed and can be picked up cheap. Tag sales are another great source for materials.
The idea behind the home biodiesel refinery is to save money and the environment. Gas prices are finally starting to come down but with the threat of running out of oil looming above us, some citizens have taken to making their own fuel to cut the cost of a gallon of fuel in half, and save the environment from damage from gas spills, fumes and damage to the ozone layer. The refinery can be small enough to fit in the corner of your garage, or large enough to take up the whole garage, providing fuel for family, friends and neighbors. You can start building one today and be up and running this weekend!
Finding the main ingredient in biodiesel is probably the easiest part of preparing a home refinery. Used vegetable oil can be found at many nearby family and fast food restaurants. The size of the operation you are assembling will determine the amount of used cooking oil needed and how it will be transported. For a larger operation having a truck with a vacuum tank will be the most efficient. For a smaller operation, 5 gallon pails may suffice to pick up the oil.
If you choose to use a vacuum tank, try to find one with a spigot at the bottom, or assemble one so that you can allow the cooking oil to settle right in the transport tank and then eliminate water and food particles out the bottom of the tank. If you use pails instead, you can just poor the cooking oil into the reaction tank after allowing the pail to settle. The water at the bottom can be tossed as you would any other water.
For the actual home refinery, there is no right or wrong way to assemble the processor. Set up can be in the corner of a garage, or an old yard shed. Wherever you chose to set up and store your materials should be away from children and pets; preferably in a place that locks.
Two main tanks are needed for the process. The larger the operation the larger the tank, but for the average English, American, Canadian family, two 50 gallon drums will work just fine. Again, these can be found at a junkyard or auctions, etc. In addition to the tanks you will need a filter for the first tank as well as a mixer, but more on that in a minute. The second tank is your storage tank and is also easy to assemble. This is where you store the finished product so if you plan on mixing a lot at once and storing it, you may need a larger tank.
Start by placing the two drums within close proximity to each other. The first drum will be the reaction tank. This is where the used vegetable oil will be strained for large food pieces and the necessary chemicals methanol and lye will be added.
Using a filter (up to 50 micron is fine for this stage) over the opening will strain your vegetable oil as it enters the reaction tank. The filter should be easy to remove and clean to rid the screen of the food particles that separated out.
This tank must have a closed lid with a stirrer suspended into the tank. You can use an old paint mixer or even a hand mixer that you find cheap (for a smaller operation) and build a lid for the tank yourself. Make sure you can see inside through a piece of Plexiglas for example, and be able to lift the lid easily for adding chemicals. Always wear safety gear when adding the chemicals. The lid should also allow for a chemical pump that will pump the product into the next tank once the mix is finished.
Next to the storage tank; you will need your storage tank to store the diesel and dispense it when ready. Again, this can be an old drum or tank that you pickup at the junkyard or tag sale. The top of this tank should allow for the reaction tank to pump into it the final product, as well as have a dispenser to pump the product out, and into a vehicle. You can find an old pump online or at a junkyard.
To make sure there are no remaining small food particles, a 5 micron filter should be installed so that the oil from the reaction tank is filtered one last time for any small particles as it enters the storage tank.
If the tank does not have a spigot at the bottom, this is okay but the spigot would be helpful. Plumbing in a spigot is fairly easy and cheap and allows for any remaining water that snuck into the batch to be drained out again before pumping into your car.
The last part of the refinery is using the biodiesel in your car, truck, tractor, or boat. The cost of the actual refinery depends on where and how you come up with the parts, or if you buy everything new. Because the vegetable oil is free, the cost is only for the other two main ingredients methanol and lye. In the end, your cost per gallon will average $0.60 to $0.90! The future of biodiesel can start right in your own garage.