First it's important to know what biodiesel is and what it isn't.  Biodiesel is not straight vegetable oil (SVO) which some people use in their diesel engines.  Although SVO is easier to produce - you just strain and pour - it requires modifications to the vehicle like a special holding tank. The viscosity of the SVO, experts tell me, needs to be reduced for proper combustion.  The way many people do this is by adding a special heating tank via a heat exchanger.  The tank has a switch so you can go back and forth between regular diesel fuel and SVO.  Typically, you start the engine with diesel then when it warms up you switch over to the SVO.  Then you switch back to diesel before you stop in order to run all the SVO out of the engine. Sounds a little too involved for my taste.  I do have one listener who says he just strains the oil and tosses it in the tank and has been doing it for six years with no problems. For now, I'm going to stick to the biodiesel.  It takes no engine modifications, no special holding tank. 

Without getting too technical, biodiesel is made by a process called transesterification by exchanging the alkoxy group of an ester compound with an alcohol.  See, unless you're a chemistry major we've probably already lost you.  It Basically, you mix vegetable oil - either from a restaurant or virgin oil - with methanol, which is the common way.  It sounds more complicated than it really is.  With products like the FuelMeister II the process is greatly simplified.  The result is a diesel fuel that runs much cleaner than petroleum diesel and is much kinder to the engine because of its lubrication qualities.

Transesterification of vegetable oil is nothing new.  It was first conducted by scientists in 1853.  Rudolf Diesel perfected his diesel engine and ran it for the first time on August 10, 1893.  Interestingly enough, he ran it on peanut oil.  Diesel believed that biomass was the future.  He uttered these prophetic words in a speech in 1912.  "The use of vegetable oils for engine fuels may seem insignificant today but such oils may become, in the course of time, as important as petroleum and the coal-tar products of the present time."  Perhaps Dr. Diesel's day has arrived. 

Three points of caution on burning biodiesel in your diesel engine: First, make sure your fuel lines are not rubber.  Most vehicles from the early 1980s on are devoid of rubber fuel lines so you should have no problems but it's best to make sure on your own vehicle.  Some of the older vehicles will have rubber fuel lines and the oil can weaken them over time causing seeping.  Replacing them is a fairly inexpensive proposition with the newer fuel lines selling for under $2 a foot.  Second, make sure you know the cloud point of your biodiesel.  The cloud point is the temperature biodiesel starts to gel and it varies from batch to batch.  Some people put little sample jars outside in the window with the batch number written on it. As cloud points vary, it's wise to keep an eye on your sample if temperatures dip below 50 degrees.  That's playing it very safe.  Most won't gel until it gets close to freezing and many won't gel until the temperature dips to 14 degrees.  If the temperature drops to the gel point of your biodiesel then you simply add regular diesel to your tank.  A 50/50 blend in the winter is thought to be sufficient but the National Biodiesel Board, a blend of 20 percent biodiesel and 80 percent regular diesel no more treatment than what's already been taken by the manufacturers of diesel at the pump.  Third, change your fuel filters regularly the first few thousand miles.  Biodiesel acts as a cleansing agent and will start to loosen years of built-up gunk in your tank.  The fuel filter catches all of this gunk so make sure you keep an eye on that.  Other than that, there's really no difference in putting regular diesel fuel in your vehicle with the exception that your vehicle will be running cleaner, quieter and much cheaper.

If the have the time and patience you can make biodiesel.  Whether it's the FuelMeister or rigging some hot water heaters yourself, all it takes is a little knowledge and the right ingredients. There are some great links below to get you started. 

-Phil Valentine

Follow Phil's progress in making biodiesel by clicking here

What's it all about, Algae?

This is an incredible video about making biodiesel and jet fuel from algae.  This probably has the most potential of any biodiesel source out there because algae grows so quickly.  Click here


Learn more about making your own biodiesel:

The FuelMeister II

Journey to Forever is a great site that fully explains the whole biodiesel process and how to do it

Biodiesel Now gives you the Basics of Biodiesel 101

Bumper sticker courtesy of Fred, one of our listeners





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