Guest Post By Adaptive Curmudgeon: March 2010
LEFT: One Of My First Batches Of Raw Biodiesel Sitting On Top Of My Most Heavily Used Reference (Handy References Tend To Get Dogeared).
When you make biodiesel you need some equipment. Most of it is buckets and assorted little stuff but you’ll also need a “processor”. This is the largest and most impressive piece of equipment you’ll use and they come in all shapes and sizes. At the risk of oversimplifying, the biodiesel fuel processor a vessel which holds your waste vegetable oil while it undergoes transesterfication (the chemical reaction which turns vegetable oil into raw biodiesel). Into this device you’ll introduce the methoxide which will initiate the reaction. It usually has a pump which serves as a mixer. Transestrfication is temperature sensitive so ideally the vessel will be insulated and at the bare minimum it’ll be resistant to the heat generated during the process. Fumes are an issue so an enclosed (but properly vented) processor is desirable. An array of input and output fittings will greatly increase your flexibility. I put mine on a stand with wheels and I’m endlessly glad I did.
Your processor can be as advanced or as crude as you want. Anything from barrel alone to an industrial array of stainless steel tanks and fittings can be used. In general, more advanced machinery will improve the quality and reliability of your reactions and/or reduce your labor efforts. It will also cost more to build or buy.
You can definitely make a processor on your own. Alternatively you can buy a pre-built kit. Both options can serve equally well. You might save some money making your own machine but you’ll probably save time buying a pre-made kit. I built my own machine and am delighted with it. I’m not a mechanical wizard so if I can do it, you can too. However, it took more time than I expected and it required more trips to the hardware store that I care to admit.
Before I bought anything I watched some folks mix up a batch using the fairly popular Fuelmeister. (The Fuelmeister has since been replaced by the Fuelmeister II, linked to above.) There are many similar devices such as the Freedom Fueler. You can learn more in a half hour watching someone actually doing the process than reading a dozen books so I heartily recommend you find someone who makes their own biodiesel and induce them to give a demonstration. This should be easy as people who make biodiesel are justly proud of their processors and skills.
The Fuelmeister worked as it should but I thought it was somewhat chintzy for its price. Some of the drawbacks were the plastic tanks, the lack of heating capacity, and the use of flexible hoses. These aspects annoyed me such that I decided to build my own.
Just because I made my own doesn’t mean pre-builts are a bad idea. Other people get along just fine with Fuelmeisters and their ilk. Any of these devices can and have made good biodiesel and it takes longer to build your own than you’d expect. I, perhaps arrogantly, thought I could do better and I did indeed save money and make a superior (in my opinion) processor. On the other hand I paid a penalty in hard work. If you’re the impatient type or money is no object I’d seriously consider one of these processors.
The Impressive Machine.
Shortly after I built my processor the BioPro hit the market. Goodness gracious, this thing takes the idea of a pre-made biodiesel processor and turns the dial to eleven. If the Fuelmeister is a truck this thing is a jet. If money were no object I’d have bought one of these. Then again if money were no object I’d be sipping a MaiTai on a tropical beach. I’ve never used a BioPro but I’m hopelessly impressed with all the groovy indicators and switches. Aside from price it’s surely superior to what I own.
There is a design called the Appleseed which uses a hot water heater as the main reaction vessel. They were originally promoted by Maria “Mark” Alovert who offers training in all things biodiesel. I’ve never had the privilege of taking her courses but they’re surely a good idea if you’ve got the chance. There are pros and cons to any equipment but I’m convinced the Appleseed is a particularly elegant solution. I like the fact that starting with a hot water heater means you’ve got an insulated and (with some wiring) heated tank with handy built in plumbing fittings at the outset. The rest of the system is relatively easy to build from that simple foundation.
I bought Mrs. Alovert’s self published book “Biodiesel Homebrew Guide” and it was worth it’s weight in gold. You can assemble an Appleseed from things you’ll find in most hardware stores but I decided to purchase a kit with most of the components pre-assembled from an outfit called B100 Supply. Sadly they’re no longer around but virtually the same thing can be purchased from Utah Biodiesel Supply. I have no financial connections with any of these people but my dealings with them all have been universally positive. Did I need to buy the kit? No. Am I glad I bought the kit? Yes.
So there you have it, a brief sample of some processor options and a description of the one I chose. There are countless processor designs and endless additional components (some of which I’ve built and most of which I haven’t) but the Appleseed was an ideal choice for my budget and construction skills. Your choice may be different but take heart that most systems, both pre-made and home built, can make excellent biodiesel.
By Adaptive Curmudgeon, February 2010
My Appleseed Biodiesel Processor.
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