Biodiesel Bonanza

November 2nd, 2009

Extreme Biodiesel’s New Extractor Pulls Out All the Stops

Considering the public uproar about rising fuel prices, you might think we were well on our way to a Mad Max scenario of fighting tooth and nail for every last drop of oil. Truth is, we aren’t exactly running out of crude, but people are getting fed up with big oil corporations controlling our lives on a whim, and making enormous profits at the same time.

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Extreme Biodiesel’s Extractor can produce 20 to 100 gallons per day for as little as 45 cents per gallon.
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The switches and valves for operating the Extractor are clearly labeled and simple to operate, with a ‘set it and forget it’ setup.
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A simple chemical test of titration determines how much methanol and lye to add to the used vegetable oil.
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After the biodiesel has been produced, it’s pumped through another filter and water separator to ensure purity.
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In addition to the Extractor, a method for collecting waste vegetable oil is required as well. This siphon offered by Extreme Biodiesel uses either a gas- or diesel-powered pump.
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Once the biodiesel is produced, it can be stored in a 50-gallon drum, with a shelf life comparable to petroleum diesel.
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PVC tubing and ball valves control the flow of used vegetable oil into and out of the storage tank, prior to processing into biodiesel.
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This tank in the back of the pickup can hold as much as 500 gallons of used vegetable oil for bulk processing into biodiesel.
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Here’s how the oil-collecting unit mounts on the back of a pickup truck.
There are alternatives, to be sure – as in alternative fuels. And no, you don’t have to wait until somebody develops a Mr. Fusion 1.21-gigawatt reactor that runs on eggshells and used coffee grounds. There’s actually a fairly simple way to make your own diesel fuel right now, right in your own garage, for less than $1 per gallon!

A number of companies offer varying sizes and prices of biodiesel machines, and as an example, we decided to check out one in particular: The Extractor from Extreme Biodiesel.

First, though, a bit of background is in order. The process for making biodiesel has been around for decades, but didn’t begin to catch on until the price of diesel began going higher than the EGT of an overloaded rig struggling up a steep grade.

Making your own diesel fuel does require a fairly clean source of vegetable oil (typically used fryer oil, which restaurants are happy to have you haul away at no charge, since they usually pay for this service). However, it’s definitely not the same as burning straight vegetable oil (SVO) in your engine. (We already covered that in a previous issue with our focus on the Frybrid and Veggie Powered systems.)

Instead, biodiesel is extracted from vegetable oil through a chemical process called transesterification, discovered maore than 150 years ago. The method for making biodiesel from vegetable oil was developed in Austria in the 1980s.

In chemical terms, what this process refers to is taking a triglyceride molecule, or a complex fatty acid, neutralizing the free fatty acids, removing the glycerin, and creating an alcohol ester. In order to accomplish this, methanol (wood alcohol) is mixed with lye (sodium hydroxide) to make sodium methoxide. This caustic solution is then mixed into vegetable oil, and the entire mixture allowed to settle. Glycerin is left on the bottom and methyl esters, or biodiesel, remains on top.

Biodiesel is currently available in certain areas as a commercial blend with petroleum-based diesel (usually five to 20 percent biodiesel). The government already uses it on military vehicles and naval vessels, and it’s growing in use on many types of truck fleets as well, so it’s quickly gaining wide acceptance, and it’s been thoroughly tested. Vehicle manufacturers such as VW and Dodge have already approved use of biodiesel blends in their vehicles.

One big advantage of biodiesel over SVO is that it can be poured straight into the vehicle’s tank with no loss of performance, and typically a reduction in emissions as well. That means you don’t have to make any changes to the vehicle’s fuel system (in contrast to burning SVO, which must be stored and heated in a secondary tank).

A lot of folks including celebrities such as Willie Nelson and Darryl Hannah are jumping on the biodiesel bandwagon, and for good reasons. These include better lubrication and cleaner tailpipe emissions. Biodiesel proponents note that the exhaust contains no sulfur emissions. Carbon monoxide and hydrocarbon emissions are cut by 20 to 60 percent, and soot particulates are reduced by 40 to 60 percent. It sure smells better than petroleum diesel, and there’s less smoke as well.

In addition, a 1998 biodiesel lifecycle study, jointly sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, concluded that biodiesel reduces net CO2 emissions by 78 percent compared to petroleum diesel. This effect is due to biodiesel’s closed carbon cycle. The CO2 released into the atmosphere when biodiesel is burned is recycled by growing plants, which are later processed into fuel. In other words, biodiesel releases no more carbon dioxide than the vegetation originally consumed.

In addition to emissions benefits, the amount of waste oil being dumped in landfills is astonishing, and one man’s trash can be another’s treasure. For instance, Walt Bacharowski, president of Silicon Valley Biodiesel, points out that in the San Jose area alone, some 8000 tons of trap-grease per year goes into local landfills. If all of that waste oil were converted to biodiesel, it would amount to about 1.4 million gallons of biodiesel.

Not surprisingly, many venture capitalists and large corporations are investing heavily in biodiesel production, so expect to see increased availability in the coming years. But you don’t have to wait for a big corporation to provide biodiesel. A number of companies already offer machinery that enable you to produce biodiesel in your own garage or workshop on a smaller scale, say 20 to 100 gallons per day.

As one example, we took a careful look at the Biodiesel Extractor from Extreme Biodiesel (www.extremebiodiesel.com), based in Orange, Calif. The system consists of a couple of plastic tanks with pumps, hoses, valves and filters, along with a weight scale and testing equipment.

To produce diesel, you first have to collect some used vegetable oil, filter it and then evaluate its quality by titration, a simple chemical test that determines the amount of lye and methanol required. These two chemicals are carefully mixed together in a sealed container (the resulting mixture is caustic, and requires safety precautions), and then added to a tank of lukewarm vegetable oil (heat speeds the conversion process). After a couple hours, glycerin separates out from the oil and is drained off, which can be resold to make soap or as plant fertilizer. (We’ve also seen a small heater on display at a biodiesel conference that burns glycerin as a fuel.)

Even though the resulting biodiesel is slightly cloudy at this point, it can be burned as fuel in a diesel engine. Even so, the Extractor adds another step of “water washing” for further refining. This phase uses a mister to spray water into the oil. As the water sinks to the bottom (since oil floats on water), it captures impurities, and is later drained off.

Extreme Biodiesel is working on a way to minimize the water-washing step by adding an oil-filtration agent called Magnesol (cost is about $1.50 a pound which figures out to about 11 cents per gallon), which the company says should remove any remaining contaminants. This chemical is commonly used in the food industry to ensure the purity of edible oil.

Lastly, the biodiesel is then pumped through a water-separator to eliminate any possible moisture, and a 15-micron filter to get rid of particles and impurities. The entire process for a 100-gallon batch takes about 12 hours, says Todd Smith of Extreme Biodiesel.

The final product is a clean, honey-colored fluid that can be poured directly into your vehicle’s fuel tank. Depending on the source of the vegetable oil, though, the fuel may look nearly clear and colorless, and in other cases a light amber shade.
So what’s it like to actually drive a truck burning biodiesel? Well, we’ve run several tanks of biodiesel from Extreme Biodiesel in our Cummins-powered ’96 Dodge Ram, using varying concentrations from 20 to nearly 100 percent. In all instances we came away impressed by the quietness of the engine, cleaner exhaust, and mild odor. We’ve also switched back and forth between diesel and biodiesel, depending on availability, with no difficulty at all.

A couple of cautions, however: A friend of ours who owns a 1982 Chevy pickup with a 6.2-liter diesel reported a stalling problem when he moved to the high Sierras in the middle of the winter. Biodiesel gels at around freezing or higher, depending on what kind of oil/fats it was made from and the percentage of the blend. But this can be a problem with conventional diesel fuel as well, so cold-weather additives and other measures such as heating elements can also be used with biodiesel.

In addition, biodiesel is a solvent and tends to loosen accumulated sludge, which might have clogged the Chevy’s fuel filter. On an older truck it’s a good idea to replace the filter after running a tank or two. Also, most pre-1994 vehicles and a few later model vehicles may have rubber fuel lines and/or rubber seals in the fuel system. Biodiesel will gradually swell the rubber and degrade it. So if you run biodiesel, check the fuel lines and seals, and if necessary, replace them with a biodiesel-resistant synthetic, such as Viton.

How about costs? Let’s do the math: if you can produce your own fuel for less than $1 per gallon, and the 100-gallon size of Extractor sells for $3,499, this machinery could easily pay for itself in a matter of months, depending on how many miles you drive and diesel engines you operate. Of course, you’d need to factor in your time for collecting waste vegetable oil, the cost of the equipment to collect, store, and pump the oil and fuel, along with the workspace.

Even so, with the price of petroleum diesel spiraling ever higher, producing your own biodiesel has an undeniable appeal, along with a number of benefits. These include using a non-toxic, renewable fuel that reduces our country’s dependence on foreign oil, recycles a waste product, and lowers pollution levels. For these reasons, we wouldn’t be surprised to see biodiesel systems like those from Extreme Biodiesel continue to increase in popularity as we look for ways to lessen our financial pain at the pump. The bottom line is that biodiesel is an alternative fuel that truly is an alternative to the rising cost of fuel.

SOURCES
Extreme Biodiesel
www.extremebiodiesel.com
(888) 998-7223

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