Sunday, February 26, 2006

I Fixed The Heater On The Biodiesel Guinea Pig, And Guess What Else I Did!

So what happens when you swipe a liter of cooking oil from your wife . . . .

Add 200 ml of methanol . . . .

3.5 grams of sodium hydroxide lye . . . .

Heat it up to 130 degrees and shake the living crap out of it?


Well, it wasn't quite that simple but the first test batch is finishing up drying even as I type, that's why it's so cloudy in the picture, it hasn't completely dried yet. Supposedly it will clear up in a day or two as the last of the wash water works its way out. Supposedly heating it back up to 120 degrees will clarify it instantly, it does, too bad it gets cloudy again as soon as it cools. Supposedly lots of things happen, sometimes they don't, that's why I like to try things out for myself. Except meth, I don't want to try that out for myself, ok maybe, but just once.

I started out Saturday morning, after work, intending to mix up the sodium methoxide solution (lye dissolved in methanol) since it was purported to take a while to dissolve. I wasn't going to try making biodiesel until Sunday but about 20 minutes later I had in my greedy little paws, 200ml of fully dissolved, fully mixed, fully ready to use to make biodiesel sodium methoxide. That's methoxide, not methamphetamine, they make that down the street. Since my methoxide solution was sitting there looking so lonely and rejected, I couldn't resist the urge to mix it with something. Gee, guess it doesn't take that long to dissolve after all, not if you keep shaking it anyway. Actually shaking it isn't the best idea, swirling it is the word I was looking for. The little beads of lye have to be completely dissolved before the solution is ready, don't use it yet if it looks like this . . . .

Keep swirling until it looks like this . . . . you don't have to swirl it constantly but the more you swirl, the faster it's ready.

If you're using a plastic bottle like I am make damn sure that it's marked HDPE, as in high density polyethylene, otherwise it could melt sending a big splash of sodium methoxide all over the place. Don't use pop bottles, they'll melt, and don't use glass jars if they have plastic lids, the lids will melt, not kidding, be careful kids, methanol is bad stuff, especially after you put lye in it. Most plastic bottles have a mark on the bottom designating what type of plastic they are, it's that little triangular recycling symbol with a number in it. HDPE will have the number 2 inside the triangle, and usually it's marked HDPE as well. You can buy HDPE bottles in various sizes that would be suitable for this purpose. I like free stuff, so I stole mine, but don't tell anybody.

Oh yeah, and you should wear chemical resistant gloves when you're playing with this stuff, methanol is big time flammable and can be absorbed through your skin. Once you add lye, it's highly caustic, as in eat the hide right off of your bones caustic. At the very least it'd hurt like hell if you got it on yourself. I didn't wear chemical resistant gloves because I forgot to put them on. I was in a hurry. That isn't a good excuse. Wear chemical resistant gloves. Do as I say, not as I do, I'm a lousy example. Did I mention that you should wear gloves when playing around with lye and methanol? Keep running water handy too just in case, lye and methanol are both water soluble so they'll wash off easily, if you're still alive to turn on the faucet. Scared yet? Good. Now be careful.

Making biodiesel on your dining room table isn't the best idea either . . . . . at least not if you're clumsy like me . . . . . seems that methanol eats certain types of wood finishes . . . . . whoda thunk it? She'll forgive me . . . . . I think.

So anyway, once the methoxide . . . . . that's methoxide not methamphetamine . . . . . is completely mixed, we heat the oil up to 130 degrees on our handy dandy hot plate cooker thingy, we know it's ready when our handy dandy thermometer thingy says so. Don't let it get too hot. Did I mention that a liter of oil takes a lot longer to cool down than it takes to heat up? These nifty little thermometer thingies are about five bucks, but they don't come with the nifty little hanger thingy. I'm sure you can buy the nifty little hanger thingies too, I made mine out of a paper clip. I couldn't find one to steal.

Once the oil is cooled back down to 130, (methanol boils at about 140 so if the oil's too hot we'll boil off too much methanol too fast and the reaction might not be able to complete, or blow the lid off of our pickle jar processor, whichever comes first), we can add the methoxide solution and begin the transesterification process. I've seen several references to using an old blender to process test batches, I didn't have an old blender, so I just put it in a pickle jar and shook the living bejeebers out of it. It worked fine right up until I needed to drain the separated components off of the bottom, (the glycerin after the initial process, and the wash water later) then it started to suck. I'm planning on building a mini processor for making test batches later, but for now I'm using a coffee can and a pickle jar, baby steps remember, baby steps. That and I like pickles.

After adding the methoxide and shaking it up good several times over the course of about an hour, setting the jar in 130 degree water in between shakes to maintain the temperature, we then set the jar somewhere safe so the cat doesn't knock it over and wait for the glycerin to settle out. Cat's don't run on biodiesel, or at least I don't think they do, maybe I should feed some to the cat and find out. Hmmmmm . . . . . . the possibilities.

Oh yeah, this is what it looks like after about 12 hours of settling . . . . .

The gold colored stuff on the bottom is glycerin and methanol, the yellow stuff on top is biodiesel with some lye and soap and residual methanol left floating around in it. Lye and soap and methanol aren't good for fuel pumps and injectors, so we'll wash them out and feed them to the cat. How do we do that? With water of course, what else would we use to wash a cat, I mean biodiesel?

This is what it looks like after you add the water and shake it up, I don't remember which wash this pic was from but the fuel and water are just starting to separate. I ran 4 washes on this fuel until the wash water was coming out crystal clear. Each one took only a few minutes to settle so I figure I must have done a pretty good job on the transesterification, otherwise I'd have wound up with a jar of goop. This batch was made with fresh oil, we'll see if it works this good when I try it with used stuff.

If the first reaction wasn't complete, or if you use too much lye, it'll show up in the wash process. I tested a small amount of fuel in a baby food jar before I washed the whole batch just in case. When I shook up the water and fuel in the baby food jar it instantly turned into a goopy white emulsion, so I thought I'd flubbed up royal, but after a very short time it separated out just as pretty as you please, so I went ahead and washed the whole batch. When making large batches it's a good idea to take a 1 liter sample and try to reprocess it to see if any more glycerin drops out. I considered reprocessing this batch just for giggles to see what happened, but decided against it. Once I build a mini processor and start playing around with used oil I will, but this is just the first test and I really didn't feel like doing the whole thing over without a way to drain the waste off of the bottom of the jar. Sitting around with an eye dropper trying to suck the last couple drops of biodiesel off of the top of the glycerin or water without mixing it up sucks, takes friggin forever. My next test batch will be made in something with a drain on the bottom if I have anything to say about it.

This is what the last wash looks like, cloudy biodiesel on top, clear water on the bottom. It's not blurry like that in real life, that happens when the photographer isn't holding still with the camera in macro mode. I think she was still shaking with anger over the finish getting eaten off of her table, so I'll forgive her, this time.

Another quality test is to check the PH of the used wash water, if it's close to the PH of the water you put in, that's a pretty good indicator that all of the residual lye and soap are washed out. If the PH is too high, then you need more washing. If the PH is too low, somebody snuck in when you weren't looking and dumped something acidic into your biodiesel. You should find them immediately and beat the dog snot out of them, just a suggestion, it's what I'd do.

The PH of my last wash water was slightly higher than normal tap water, but since this is just a test batch, and time is limited, and I don't have a pickle jar with a drain on the bottom, I figure that it's good enough. Once I get some sort of processor built I can set this stuff up and let it run while I go do something else, this batch was awfully time consuming since everything was so hands on. Baby steps remember, baby steps. Always remember to keep your pack of smokes handy when making biodiesel as well, but don't smoke around methanol, unless you like dieing a fiery death, I hear some people like that sort of thing, I don't, well OK, but just once.

So there you have it, the full account of my first batch of biodiesel. I'm still looking for suppliers for the nasty chemical goodies, I'm still looking for stuff to build my super jammy gigundo processor, and I still haven't figured out the tax angle, but I'm a hell of a lot closer to making this a reality than I was back in 1983 when I first heard that old fryer grease could be made into diesel fuel and decided that it was a pretty cool idea. Just my luck though, right when I decide I'm finally going to do this it gets popular. All I've been hearing on the news lately is biodiesel this and biodiesel that. Just ducky, now I'll be competing with everybody else for used oil and the price of methanol and lye will shoot even higher than they already are. Guess I better find some barrels and talk to some restaurant owners quick, before all the good stuff is spoken for, and find a place to steal methanol and lye. I'd be willing to bet that the death meth labs don't pay for their ingredients, OK, maybe they do, but just once. Too bad I couldn't sell biodiesel for a hundred bucks a gram or better, then I could afford to buy my ingredients too.

And in other news . . . . .

Anybody else catch Governor Schweitzer on 60 Minutes? Seems he's quite enamored with this whole "make diesel out of coal" idea. That'd be great if we didn't have to dig up the countryside to do it. There's a dumpster full of grease just waiting to be made into diesel behind every restaurant in the state and he's hung up on digging more coal mines. How much money did the coal mining industry donate to Schweitzer's campaign anyway? He says he's committed to breaking our dependence on foreign oil with this coal oil thing, I say if he really was he'd be working on making it easier for people to make their own biodiesel without pissing off the tax man. Maybe he wants to break our dependence on foreign oil, too bad he just wants to switch it to a different bunch of corporate asshats hell bent on raping the environment for a buck.

I'm urging everyone to write letters and send emails to the Governor asking him to demand that the tax structure of Montana be reworded to allow home brewers of biodiesel to practice their craft uninhibited by legal hang ups. The least he could do is bring the problem to the public's attention, or at least make the requirements more well known since I can't seem to find them anywhere, not in English anyway. I have no problem whatsoever paying my road tax obligation, but that could be handled with a simple fuel permit purchased annually for a nominal fee based on an average of how many miles most people drive in a year on State maintained roads, along with a discount as a reward for being environmentally responsible and independent from foreign oil, that way anybody could do this as long as they had the money to buy the permit. Chances are that lots of people would buy the permit and never use it or only use it for a short time then get fed up with the hassle and go back to buying fuel at the pump, translating into more revenue for the state.

I can make my own beer without getting in trouble with the law, I can build my own house, I don't have to be a licensed electrician to work on the wiring in my own home, I can even cook my own supper if my wife isn't home and that's the one that's a dangerous proposition. I figure I should be able to make my own fuel as well, and so should you. I may not have the money that the coal and oil industries have to influence political agendas, but I can send a lot of emails and letters. What say we see just how dedicated to the environment that our governor really is, unless he's too busy being dedicated to corporate America to read our correspondence. Whaddya say Governor Schweitzer?

Don't worry about the cat, I didn't really feed him lye, but he has been acting a little strange lately . . . . .

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Tell Me Lyes, Tell Me Sweet Little Lyes

They may be small, but you gotta start somewhere. Baby steps young Grasshopper, baby steps.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Ok, Please Stop Snorting The Chalk Dust And Take Your Seats, The Cost Of Biodiesel Part II

First of all, go check out the Dixie Drifter. Seems that since he stopped expending all of his efforts trolling, he's been laying on the satire pretty thick, this post is one of the funniest I've read in a long time. Hey, if I can forgive him the rest of you sure as hell can. Be sure to check out the rest of his new blog as well, Jihad Jed and the Fruitcake Lady are well worth your attention, as long as you can handle a good laugh.

Now that everyone's had their laugh for today, let's get to the really exciting stuff. I'm Professor Poindexter and the subject for today is the personal economics of biodiesel. Last time we looked at a few ingredients and their costs and if I remember correctly we left off with methanol, so let's look at its cost and its effect on the price of our finished product. Well, we would look at its cost, if I knew what it was. I haven't been able to nail down an exact price on methanol yet but I have made up my mind that ordering this stuff and paying hazmat fees is out of the question. We can at least figure out how much of it we're going to need and why.

Drifter, stop eating your crayons and pay attention please! Thank you.

OK, the exact amount of methanol to use is a factor that no one can seem to agree on. There's a chart here that tells how much to use for different kinds of oil, as long as one knows what kind of oil they're working with. It would probably work great for new oil, but once it's been cooked in, or if we don't know exactly what kind of oil it is, the rules all change, it becomes more of a game of trial and error. has this to say:

If you don't know what kind of oil your WVO is, try using 25% methanol -- 250 ml methanol to 1 litre of oil. If you've taken care with the titration, used accurate measurements and followed the instructions carefully, you should get a good, clean "split", with esters on top and the glycerine and free fatty acids cleanly separated at the bottom. If you have trouble washing it, with a lot of frothing, that could be because the process didn't go far enough and unconverted material is forming emulsions -- try using more methanol next time. If everything works well, try using less methanol. You'll soon figure out what's best for you.

So failing better information, we're going to start with the 25% figure and work from there. An easier way to tell whether we've used enough methanol or not that I ran across is to simply try to reprocess a small sample of the finished fuel before trying to wash it. If more glycerin drops out of the sample that's a good indicator that the reaction wasn't complete the first time around, either from a lack of methanol to properly carry the reaction, or possibly from not enough lye to completely catalyze the reaction, either way the entire batch needs more processing at that point before it's suitable to wash or use. If no more glycerin drops out that indicates that the reaction was sufficient to completely transesterify the oil and we're ready to begin the wash process. It's still possible that we've used too much methanol, but unlike the tub of goop that we'll end up with from using too much lye, using too much methanol doesn't really hurt anything, we'll just be wasting methanol. Once we really get going on this we'll be able to get at least some of it back. How you ask?

Some of the methanol is used to replace the glycerin in the oil, that's the whole point of the transesterification process, but the rest of it is merely a carrier. It's needed both as a means of dissolving the lye before adding it to the oil, and to carry the reaction all the way to completion. Most of the excess methanol that doesn't wind up replacing glycerin drops out of the oil with the glycerin, and can be distilled back out later and reused if we build a "separator". Best of all, when we're not using it to separate methanol and glycerin we can wash it out and use it to whip up a batch or two of corn squeezin's, really give them revenuers something to get excited about, and me something to sip on while I'm fishing this summer.

Once purified, the glycerin can be used for all sorts of things, I've got a few ideas of what to do with it already since I'm sure I'll wind up with a decent supply of it before long, but that's for another day.

Now, if we use the 25% figure, that's 5 gallons of methanol for one of our 20 gallon batches of oil. I can order methanol for about $50.oo for a five gallon jug, OUCH! If we do the math on that one the price of our fuel figured on methanol alone just jumped up to over $2.50 a gallon, not worth the effort. I'm still checking on the price of 55 gallon drums of methanol purchased locally, I'm not sure just how much they are but I know they're substantially less than $10.oo a gallon, or at least they used to be before the meth craze made most every pure chemical known to man virtually unobtainable to anybody without a licensed meth lab. My second best friend Brian uses methanol from time to time in his business, (no, he doesn't have a meth lab), and buys it by the barrel, so he's checking on the price for me and has already said that he would be willing to sell it to me in smaller quantities for whatever he pays for it. I saw a figure of around $200 for a 55 gallon drum someplace, that would at least get us under a dollar a gallon on our fuel. I don't remember where, however, and I don't know how reliable the source so since I can't seem to find a definite price yet, we're at a bit of a standstill when it comes to producing any sort of volume.

I haven't tracked down any lye as of yet either, but hopefully that will change tomorrow. I'm still going to check a few chemical places just in case it's cheaper, but my mother actually came to the rescue on this one. Health food stores, and craft stores were her suggestions, both of which would likely sell soapmaking supplies, thanks Mom. Fire Fly up in Great Falls made a very worthwhile contribution to the effort as well. I now have a gallon of 99% pure isopropyl alcohol in my greedy little fingers, purchased for about half of what I was figuring at Western Ranch Supply. Thanks again Fire Fly. I still need a few bigger ticket items for the bulk processor, but the majority of the ingredients and equipment for a few test batches have been rounded up already, we'll see if we get to play Mr. Wizard next weekend.

If anyone happens to have any electric water heaters laying around though, or some kind of plastic or metal tanks especially those pallet sized bulk liquid shipping totes, or empty 55 gallon drums of any kind as long as they aren't too nasty and don't have any holes in them, or a six pack of beer that you aren't drinking, let me know. I have three trucks, I'd be happy to help you "dispose" of some of the junk you have laying around. You clean up your yard, I make a bigger mess out of mine, it's a win win situation.

Your homework assignment for this week: Oh hell, there ain't one, I'm too damn tired to do any more homework so you get off easy. I'm off to bed, shopping for lye tomorrow, again.

Class Dismissed

Hey Tony, if you're out there, does this look familiar?

I Seem To Have Gained A Little Value

I'm still pretty much worthless, but it's a start.

My blog is worth $10,726.26.
How much is your blog worth?

I haven't been able to round up the rest of the ingredients, so no test batch of biodiesel this weekend. I have almost everything I need to get started, methanol, isopropanol, vegatable oil both fresh for the first batch and used for the second, PH meter, various jugs and funnels and beakers and syringes for measuring and mixing, and I just received an email yesterday saying that my digital scale is on its way, but I still don't have any lye. I find it rather ironic really. I can't buy lye at a grocery store because people use it to make meth. Obviously, if they're making meth, they're still finding it somewhere so what the heck good is it doing anybody to keep it off of store shelves? The really ironic thing is that I could buy methamphetamine easier than I could buy lye, that crap is everywhere. Now that's irony, and a perfect example of the idiocy of a nanny state. Methamphetamine on every street corner just waiting for the terminally stupid to kill themselves with it, but I can't buy lye to make biodiesel, which isn't even poisonous. I really wish that it was actually physically painful to be that damn stupid, there would be people writhing in the streets screaming in agony, but at least I could jump over them and go buy some lye.

Stay warm folks, I'll be back tonight with more on the cost of biodiesel, since I'm woefully unable to start on the actual process of making it yet.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

So I Got Off Work Early This Morning . . . .

and I felt like doing some math. Sounds odd I know doing math at 3 AM but I've never claimed to be normal. Now, if you'll allow me the priveledge, I'm gonna get really weird.

If you'd all be so kind as to remove your noses from the rubber cement bottles and take your seats we'll get started. Very well then, here's what I've figured out so far.

The chemical reaction necessary to convert waste vegetable oil into biodiesel requires a catalyst, that catalyst is sodium hydroxide, commonly known as lye. Other catalysts can be used but lye seems to be the cheapest and most readily available, or at least lye used to be readily available, seems that lye is also an ingredient in methamphetamine so now it's somewhat controlled, go figure. Is it just me or is just about everything that's a pure ingredient in anything that people make themselves all of a sudden controlled because it's an ingredient in meth? I think it's a conspiracy to keep people dependent on big business and the government myself. If you can't make things yourself you have to buy them and be dependent on the people selling them, right? Sounds like a control tactic if I ever heard one. I know, I'm paranoid, but I've never claimed to be normal. I am however at least somewhat independent, not as much as I'd like to be, but better than average I like to think. War on Plants be damned, I'm pressing forward!

Lye used to be sold in any supermarket or hardware store as a drain opener but a half day search around town yielded nothing except a bunch of funny "OMG, he's making meth!" looks from the helpful hardware folks that I asked about it, nobody said anything, but I could tell what they were thinking. Never mind that lye is used for about a hundred other things like making soap, and removing rust from metal, and making biodiesel. Nobody knows how to make anything themselves anymore, all they know is that some people make meth, they don't have a clue how they do it, they just know that they do because the commercials on TV told them so. If it's nasty, or corrosive, or caustic, or has a little skull and crossbones on the bottle, it must be an ingredient in meth they think.

I'm not making meth. . . well . . . ok . . . but just once. No seriously, I don't know how to make meth, I don't use meth, and I couldn't care less how it's made or what's in it. What I do know is that no matter how many store clerks are made into spies in the "War on Drugs", people will continue to make meth by the buckets as long as the profits make it worthwhile, they'll just get their ingredients elsewhere. Or worse, they'll use impure ingredients like household cleaners and drain openers containing other undesirable substances not necessary for whatever chemical processes they're trying to produce and make a product even more dangerous than the one they've made in the past. Thanks to these morons, the druggies and the idiots stupid enough to give a rat's ass if they fry their brains snorting lye, I'm having a hard time finding the pure ingredients that I need. While meth addicts may not care if their "fuel" is made with Drano Crystals or pure lye, I do. I'm not trying to remove a hair clog from my engine or get it stoned, I'm trying to make quality fuel for it and commercial preparations merely containing these chemicals aren't pure enough for my purposes. I say legalize meth, I'll be able to buy my biodiesel ingredients at the hardware store, and it won't be long before all of the tweakers snort and smoke themselves to death, then there won't be a meth problem.

When I was a kid one of my favorite shows on TV was Mr. Wizard's World. Remember all the cool stuff he used to make? Mr. Wizard would have a hard time making a vinegar and baking soda volcano in today's world without getting a body cavity search. No wonder kids in this country score so low on math and science tests, if they take any interest in chemistry they're probably accused of making meth, god forbid they try to conduct any kind of experiment using anything more volatile than water. They'll ban that next, I'm sure it's an ingredient in meth as well.

I showed my kids how to make bombs out of pop bottles and dry ice, I like science, I want my kids to like science too, but then again, I've never claimed to be normal, oh yeah, and blowing stuff up is fun. When was the last time you blew something up? When was the last time you spent quality time with your kids blowing something up? Never? That's why you're so uptight, that's why you need meth to function, that's why your kids will be just like you, now quit ruining my country with your stupid assed nanny state laws and go blow something up for heaven's sake. Just don't blow up anything important, I don't want anybody getting thrown in jail, especially me.

Anybody want to start a pool? We could all bet on when the cops are going to show up at my house. If they never do, I'll just keep the money. What do you think? 5 bucks gets you in. The 4th of July doesn't count, the cops always stop by on the 4th, it's a tradition.

Anyway, back to the lye, and the math. Pure sodium hydroxide lye is still available from soapmaking supply companies in fairly large quantities for not too terrible of a price. I found a 30 lb tub of it for a little less than a hundred bucks, the shipping is atrocious, hazmat fees. I'm going to try to find it locally from a chemical supplier, but until then the figure I'm using is $3.00/pound. Let's look at what that's going to cost when we start making biodiesel, shall we?

When converting virgin vegetable oil into biodiesel the basic amount of lye used is 3.5 grams/liter, the figures vary according to who you ask but this figure seems to be a common starting point. Used oil, however, contains free fatty acids released by the oil being heated in a fryer that have to be neutralized in addition to the normal transesterification process necessary to remove the glycerin from the oil and replace it with methanol. If you don't know what I'm talking about I layed out some background here.

Now lye, being a base or alkaline, is a perfect substance for neutralizing these acids, but we have to know exactly how much is needed or else we'll wind up with a mess. An incomplete reaction if there's not enough leaving nasties in our fuel, or a big tank full of glop if we use too much since the excess lye will continue reacting with the oil, making soap. We may make soap later, today we're learning how to make biodiesel. The way we determine how much lye is needed is by performing a titration using a solution of 0.1% lye dissolved into distilled water and adding it to a second solution made by dissolving 1 ml of the oil being tested in 10 ml of isopropanol. In order to measure the lye we'll need the handy dandy digital scale that I bought on ebay which hasn't arrived as of yet. We'll add the lye/water solution 1 ml at a time until the PH of the oil/isopropanol solution is 8.5, which we'll measure with the handy dandy digital PH meter that I bought on ebay and which arrived in the mail today. At that point we take the amount of the titration solution needed to reach the desired PH, and add it to the base figure of 3.5 grams/liter for uncooked oil.

So let's say that our oil is particularly nasty, in other words a worst case scenario. Oil that had been so badly overheated that you could actually feel your arteries hardening with every french fry that you ate from all of the free fatty acids floating around in it. From what I'm finding even oil like this would probably take 6.5 ml of test solution to reach PH 8.5 as an absolute maximum, chances are that most oil would take half that much. I'm trying to work out an absolute worst case scenario here in order to figure cost potential. If you take 6.5 (the number of ml of test solution needed to reach the proper PH), and add it to 3.5 (the number of grams/liter of lye needed for virgin oil) we come up with 10. What this means is that this oil would need 10 grams of lye for 1 liter of oil in order to properly and completely transesterify, or 100 grams for 10 liters. Since a liter is pretty close to a quart, or at least close enough for our math purposes (not for actually making biodiesel, all proportions must be exact once we start mixing chemicals) we can figure that since 10 liters is approximately 2 1/2 gallons we'll need about 200 grams of lye for 5 gallons of oil, or 400 grams for 10 gallons. There's approximately 450 grams to a pound (once again, not exact but when I actually make this stuff all measurements will remain in metric throughout the process), so we can figure about 2 lbs of lye for a 20 gallon batch if that's the size processor I wind up making. As I said, this is a worst case scenario, all of my estimates err to the high side in terms of cost, and chances are that we'll not need nearly this much, I'm just trying to work out a basic cost estimate per gallon here so don't get all nit picky on me. Since a 30 lb tub of lye is about $100 dollars, I think we can consider it a close enough estimate that lye is about $3.00 a pound, so that's $6.00 for lye per 20 gallon batch. If we divide 6 by 20 we come up with .3, or $0.30 per gallon as about the highest possible cost for lye. Follow me so far? I didn't think so but wake the hell up anyway or I'll chuck an eraser at your head, besides, you're slobbering on your keyboard and your snoring is disturbing the two nerds in the front row that actually want to learn this stuff.

Now the other ingredient I mentioned is isopropanol, also known as isopropyl alcohol. You probably have a bottle of it in your medicine cabinet since it's the main ingredient in rubbing alcohol but once again, the drugstore variety isn't pure enough. The super pure variety seems rather expensive at first glance, about $25.00 per gallon, but when we consider that we'll only need 10 ml of it for every titration, and only one titration per batch as long as we don't screw up too often, the cost becomes negligible. Since there's approximately 3785 ml in a gallon, that's about 378 titrations worth for $25.00. If we do the math, we come up with a little less than $0.07 per titration. Since one titration is good for one batch of oil no matter what the size and we're planning on 20 gallon batches, that's about not even a half cent per gallon of finished product. Not really worth worrying about methinks. Some sources claim that ISO-Heet fuel line antifreeze will work, but a check of Gold Eagle's website shows that ISO-Heet has "special additives" in addition to isopropanol so I think I'll stick to the pure stuff. I may use ISO-Heet for my initial test batch, but for the stuff I'm going to actually use in my engine I'll fork out the bucks for the genuine article. I plan on contacting some local chemical suppliers to see if I can buy it in smaller quantities locally and avoid the shipping costs. Anyway, the point is that the cost of isopropanol isn't worth sweating about in this case.

The next key ingredient is methanol, but we'll save that one for next time. Your homework assignment is to go to the Montana State Website, dig through the Montana Legal Code, and see if you can tell me what the hell all of that legaleze means with regard to home biodiesel producers and their road tax obligation. From what I'm finding even people producing fuel for their own personal use are under the same requirements as someone making fuel to sell, and our governor claims to be committed to promoting alternative energy, hah! If one of the lawyer types out there can tell me what all of that crap translates to in English, then I'll be able to sound a lot more knowledgeable when I write a letter to Gov. Schweitzer asking him to issue an immediate executive order releasing homebrewers of biodiesel from all highway use tax obligations in order to make good on his promises to promote biofuels. I haven't even started to look into the Federal hoopla yet.

My best advice is this: Learn from my mistakes. If you're going to make your own biodiesel, don't tell anybody, damn sure don't post it on the internet, just do it and hope you don't get caught.

Class dismissed.

On a side note, I was doing some other math as well. Often it's useful to know the displacement of an engine in both Liters and Cubic Inches since a lot of service manuals and parts books use different standards than the engine manufacturers and even each other. My biodiesel guinea pig has a 6.9 Liter engine. A Liter is equal to 61 Cubic Inches. If you do the math you come up with. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 420. Ok, actually you come up with 420.9, but Ford calls it a 420. My point?

Miss ya Tony

Monday, February 13, 2006

I Couldn't Find A Life . . .

on ebay. I looked, but nobody had one for sale. Kind of funny when you think about it, everything else is for sale on ebay, but not a life. Sometimes I think I need one, this was one of those weekends.

Saturdays are always a complete bust. I work nights, so on Saturdays I have two choices, sit around all day feeling like a zombie, or go to bed when I get home from work then sleep all day so I'll be up all night then sleep all day Sunday and get absolutely nothing done. This past Saturday I tried something different, I stayed up most of the day, went to bed Saturday afternoon, then got up really early Sunday, and still didn't get much done.

OK, I got a few things done but when you have as much to do as I do it's easy to get overwhelmed. Most all of my fleet of vehicles need some sort of repairs. Nothing serious just minor little annoyances that I haven't been able to get to. In order to do the repairs I need to clean out the shop so I have room to work, a daunting task in itself.

To make matters worse I recently purchased the land where has been parked my veritable Taj Mahal on wheels known as a trailer house, I now have a much larger shop than I had before, but it needs cleaned out as well so that I can take some of the stuff from my current shop and move it to the new one. Most of the stuff in the "new" shop belongs to my former land lady which I've agreed to allow to remain living on the property in return for all of the favors she's done for me over the years. I did inform her that I will be taking over the other half of the shop, but I can't even begin to clean out the "new" shop until she decides what she wants to keep and what she wants to throw out and decides just where exactly she is going to put it since her garage is now my garage and I'm sort of a garage using type of fellow with no intentions of making payments on a garage that I can't use. She's a really nice lady and a very good friend, but she's got too much stuff, and it's in my way.

Confused yet? Good, so am I. That's basically where I am now, so much to do that I don't know where to start, and I haven't even begun to consider what I'm going to do with the yard. Perhaps a day of particularly good weather will spur me to just dig in with both hands, Sunday wasn't it with that biting wind howling up my sleeves all day, the thermometer said it was near 50, but that damn wind felt like it was coming right off a fresh snow bank. From what I'm seeing on the weather reports, this weekend's going to be a real nut freezer. No thanks, I'll stay in the house, the shop and yard can wait. I think I'm ready for spring, even though we haven't really had a winter as of yet. Maybe I'm just getting weak in my old age. Go ahead, call me a wuss, I can take it, at least I'll be a warm wuss.

Sunday, I awoke before the sun, full of vigor, overflowing with verve, full of piss and vinegar and ready to accomplish great things, then I walked out into the living room and saw this damn computer. Like a moth to a flame the great wealth of information that is the interweb drew me into its loving arms of learning . . . . for about 4 hours, verve depleted, vigor unenvigorated, get up and go done got up and went.

After my whirlwind study session on the blasted computer I spent most of the day driving around in the biodiesel guinea pig diagnosing problems and making mental notes to fix them, and visiting a few friends that I haven't seen in a while, one that's quite well, another in the hospital that isn't so good but better than he was the last time I saw him. I found that the brakes on the 'pig left something to be desired, the big river of brake fluid running down the front of the brake booster told me that the master cylinder had seen the extent of its useful life.

Now normally I'm one to say that brakes are for sissies, I spend far too much time trying to keep these old junk heaps going to concern myself with making them stop. But since my wife has already expressed an interest in driving this thing from time to time I figured that I'd better fix the brakes. I love her more than words can express but I haven't managed to make a farm gal out of her yet, I don't think she has much experience when it comes to trucks with no brakes, she doesn't chew tobacco either, darn city girls. Mental note to self: pick up new master cylinder for the Ford . . . . . . or get the wife a can of Copenhagen.

20 bucks later, new master cylinder in hand I returned home and managed to install it, bleed the brakes with the assistance of my beautiful, actually quite mechanically talented for a city girl, non tobacco chewing wife, and make the 'pig a whole lot safer before dark, so I guess the weekend wasn't a total waste. Now if I could just find time to get the blasted heater working, looks like I'm going to need it. Damn Montana weather, about the time I get the heater working it'll be time to think about the air conditioner. Higher quality of living my ass.

I did learn a lot more about biodiesel though, and found a few more of the much needed pieces of equipment on ebay for a very friendly price. Electronic PH meter: $24.00, digital scale accurate to 0.01 gram: $0.01 plus 15 bucks for shipping, how much fun it's going to be talking to the cops when one of my neighbors is convinced that I'm making meth in my shop: priceless. Ph meter, scale, I'm almost ready to try my first test batch! Of biodiesel that is, not meth, don't get any funny ideas, I have no interest in that crap. We'll soon see if I wind up with a jug of nice, clean homemade fuel, or a pile of semi useless goop. With my luck I'll accidentally make meth and it'll get done right about the time the cops show up. Will I be able to blog from prison?

Even if I wind up with the goop all is not lost, it may take a little time to get the formula right, but I'm quite determined to do this so a few minor setbacks can surely be taken in stride. I found out that I was wrong about the gel point for biodiesel as well, encouraging news for sure. The figure of 40 degrees F was a worse case scenario from what I've recently found out. I'm now finding that well made biodiesel will handle temperatures much closer to freezing without gelling. Even #2 petro diesel is said to gel at 20 degrees, although I've never actually seen a truck gel up until the temp gets much colder and stays that way for awhile. My apologies for distributing bad information, just keep in mind that I'm still learning about this stuff myself, and that a lot of it hasn't been really researched in any type of official capacity, so even a lot of the information available from the best sources is at least mildly questionable. When I actually start making this stuff, then I'll do research of my own and convey the actual, real world, results here of course. No matter what a person is doing, it's not unusual for the theory to not agree with what happens in actuality, it's difficult to simulate "real world" conditions in a lab.

I'll be using virgin (never been cooked in, not like "virgin" virgin, nobody does that with oil do they? Get your mind out of the gutter, pervert) oil for the first batch, just a quart or so to start with. If that works, then I'll move up to a small quantity of used oil, I currently have about 5 gallons of that to play with. If that works then look out Exxon/Mobil, I will then have the motivation that I need to clean out the shop methinks, I need room to build my refinery! I'm still coming up mostly bust when it comes to refinery parts.

The pumps that I need are available from Harbor Freight for about 30 bucks and I plan on buying them new to avoid having to adapt to five different pumps before I find some that work, but I still haven't found any tanks, or the two electric water heaters that I need in order to scam the heating elements and the controls for my heating system. A friend of mine is planning on replacing his water heater this spring as it's getting a bit rusty around the edges, so there's one. I still need one more as well as a couple of metal tanks of some sort for the refinery itself. I'm thinking about using 100lb propane bottles, I just gave two of those away a year or so ago, now I need them, just my luck.

I wish I had the capability to weld aluminum, I know where there's a pair of fuel tanks off of a semi truck that I could get for free, but for now I'll just have to stick to steel. All will come in time I'm sure, I'm going to try to hit a few oil distributors today and see if I can find a couple bladder tanks or some barrels for storage of waste oil and completed fuel. I have a restaurant owner in mind that I need to talk to since I'll be needing far more than 5 gallons of used oil once I get this thing off of the ground, I'm hoping that I can convince him that I'll save him a few bucks by hauling off his oil instead of him having to pay a rendering service to do it for him. I'm not sure how rendering services charge though. If they charge a flat rate monthly fee I won't be saving him anything unless I take all of his oil and I'm really not interested in roping myself to such an obligation. If the service is charged by how much oil they haul off however, any that I take is saving him money, which should make it an easy sell. I'm hoping that the oil is the easy part.

The expensive part is going to be the valves, I need a lot of valves, haven't figured out just how many yet but it's going to be a bunch. I plan on using 1/2 inch ball valves if possible for durability but I may have to resort to a cheaper alternative at least initially, I might go and price out some of that stuff today as well. As far as the test batch is concerned, the only things I need now are lye, and some isopropanol. Lye is easy, 99% pure isopropanol may be the trick. Research, research, research . . . . . . and to think some people have to pay others to teach them things.

I'm gonna go look for isopropanol, and tanks, and used up smelly old fryer grease. You all have a good day, hopefully I make biodiesel for you this weekend, or a bottle of goop perhaps? Stay tuned.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Another Fun Filled Weekend

Well, not too terribly fun filled, but nobody got killed anyway. Somebody said that there was a football game on TV, whoopie. I had a dog that could chase a ball, sports don't impress me. The Mrs. was going for Seattle, I wish they would have won, I like it when she's in a good mood. Mama ain't happy, ain't nobody happy, get my drift?

I did manage to round up some parts for the biodiesel guinea pig. A friend bought a similar truck for parts and was about to haul it off to the boneyard. Since the only thing he'd wanted off of it was the engine and transmission he told me I was welcome to whatever was left. I got a heater fan, mine was shot. I got an air conditioner compressor, mine's seized up solid, I've never had a truck with AC, I need one, global warming you know. Snagged the dash pad, and both of the dash bezels, mine aren't that bad, but these are in better shape so on they'll go. Oh yeah, I got a complete new exhaust system, front to back, muffler and all, 3 inch pipe, brand new, so new that all the bolts came right off without breaking, I don't think they even drove it home from the muffler shop, it's that friggin new. Whoever it was that put a new engine and a $300 exhaust system on their truck and then wrecked it and sold it to my friend for parts, thanks.

There were a few other parts that I wanted, but time was limited so what I got is what I got. Better than nothing. The parts truck had a brand new windshield too, I would've liked to snag it but we didn't have one of those nifty cable tools to cut the glue with in order to get it out. When it's 100 degrees outside they'll come out with a putty knife sometimes, but when its 30 and the sun isn't shining, forget it. I also noticed that the passenger side window seals aren't the best on my truck, should have grabbed those too I guess, oops. All in all it was a pretty good haul, about $500+ worth of parts had I bought them new, at least a couple C-Notes at the wrecking yard where one is extremely unlikely to find a brand new exhaust system I might add, I got it all free. I'll install it all myself too. How much does your mechanic charge per hour? Sucks to be you.

Other than a few little things, the truck's actually in pretty good shape especially considering it's 22 years old. I'm not a big Ford fan, but I got this truck for an extremely friendly price. Normally I stay away from anything that isn't a GM product, but when it comes to older diesels I'll take a Ford over a GM any day. The older light duty GM diesels were just converted gas engines, notorious for being pieces of crap, not surprising when one considers that GM's heavy diesel engines weren't much more than glorified boat anchors back then either. Ask any old trucker about Detroit Diesel 6-71's or the 91 or 92 series 6v's and 8v's, or god forbid the 318. If you're offended by foul language be sure to plug your ears before they answer. GM's diesel division engineers finally got their crap together on the Series 60 that came out in the early 90's, and as far as light duty engines are concerned I hear the Duramax is a whole different ballgame as well. Only time will tell if they hold up over the long run, but the Duramax is an Isuzu design so I wouldn't be surprised if it was a heck of a motor. Isuzu has been making bulletproof small diesels for years, they're the Japanese equivalent of Cummins or Peterbilt, well known for their heavy trucks overseas. I know the new GM diesels have power, the Beasty got its ass handed to it by a mostly stock Duramax crewcab at the track last summer, and the Beasty is far from slow, and far from stock. I'd be willing to bet that he'd like to trade me payment books though, the Beasty's payed for, always has been, as long as I've had it anyway.

The Fords have an engine that was made by Navistar, as in International, formerly International Harvester, yep, it's a corn binder, most of a century of diesel fueled farm work as its heritage, we'll see if any of that legendary toughness rubbed off on this one. One look under the hood tells me that it's a far superior design to the GM 6.2's, or (cough, hack, gag) the notorious 5.7 remembered best for its constant propensity for cracking heads on a weekly basis as well as its utter lack of anything that could even remotely be construed as power. When comparing this to a GM the phrase "easier to work on" doesn't begin to explain the situation, and best of all it isn't even covered with a 3 inch thick coating of greasy slime like all of the GM 6.2s I've worked on. This one starts almost instantly, idles smoothly, accelerates excellently for a normally aspirated diesel, and it's got that nifty diesel sound that I love. Now if it only had a turbo. And a flatbed. And stacks, big loud chrome ones. I have nothing but time, we'll see what happens.

Mechanically, the only thing I've found wrong with this one is two leaking injectors, I haven't researched it yet but I imagine it's a matter of a few bucks worth of O-rings, and a half hour or so of my valuable time to install them. Other than that this thing is clean, really clean, it'll be better when I replace its rusty, leaky old exhaust system and get the heater and air conditioner working, but it's still really clean. Did I mention that it's clean? Oh yeah, the price. $FREEFIFTYFREE$ Thanks sis.

Not bad for a free truck is it?
How much are your car payments?
I don't have any.
Sucks to be you.

I've got the word out on the goodies I'm going to need for my biodiesel refinery but I haven't had much luck yet. Anybody got an old electric water heater laying around? A 100 lb. propane bottle or two or three or a couple upright 20 or 30 gallon air tanks perhaps? A couple 2 or 3 hundred gallon plastic tanks you're not using like maybe one of those caged in plastic bladder tanks that the oil distributors give away from time to time because they got holes in them or an old water tank? Maybe you own a restaurant in the Billings area and would like some of your used fryer oil hauled off for free? Leave me a comment and we will talk.

I still have to research the tax angle on the stuff. I was told that there's a certain amount of biodiesel that a person can make without having to pay road tax but I'm not sure how much it is yet since I've heard conflicting stories. The last thing I need is a big assed fine for running off road fuel so I'm gonna try to stay legit on this one if possible. If it isn't possible then . . . . .

Where will you be going on vacation after the big oil companies create a worse shortage than they already have in order to drive up the gas prices and there's two mile long lines at the pumps waiting to buy $5.00 a gallon gas?
I'll be making my own fuel for pennies a gallon.
Sucks to be you.

That's all for today kids, keep on living, life isn't so bad when you consider the alternative.

Happy Sunday


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