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?


The Dixie Drifter said...

Trolling...Justin I had give that up I was getting to many women following me home and the wife did not like that nor did she think it was funny.....

Justin said...

Gee . . . When I go trolling the only thing I ever bring home is fish. What's your secret? ;)

a-fire-fly said...

It says you can contact him if you want to at, don't know if that is in the online article. He is a nice guy.