GASPUMPPhil Valentine's

Biodiesel Project

This project uses the Fuel Meister II biodiesel processor from C&E Biodiesel.  There are those who choose to build their own system but I found that to be a bit overwhelming.  The Fuel Meister simplifies the entire process.  Everything is contained inside the machine and they walk you through every step with detailed instructions, a DVD and phone support if you need it.  Plus, most everything you need comes with the kit so you're not running all over the place collecting parts to make your own unit.  The items that don't come with the machine - like lye and methanol and several other items - are on a sheet provided by C&E.  Most of those items can be purchased at a hardware store and/or drug store.

The first big decision you have to make in your biodiesel adventure is where to make it.  I chose to build a shed behind my cabin.  The shed is something I built specifically for this project.  You need not go to so much trouble.  If you have room in your garage then you're set.  I didn't so I had to build a place.

You'll need access to an electrical outlet.  I also equipped the shed with a sink with hot and cold running water.  This isn't necessary but I was told the washing phase goes much faster if you use warm water.  Plus, I wanted somewhere to drain the soapy run-off (I'll get to that later).  You don't necessarily have to have a drain in your garage but it's easier than draining the run-off in large pails and hauling it to the drain.  You don't want to send the glycerin portion of the waste down the drain.  It solidifies and can cause all sorts of problems.

The dilemma of just what to do with the glycerin seems to be what stumps nearly every biodiesel maker.  There are all sorts of options and I'll cover what I'm doing as this little blog continues.

That shed I built took way more time than I ever imagined and cost a pretty penny but my boys and I did all the work and it looks like the rest of the cabin.  It's much better than a pre-fab shed from Home Depot but there's certainly nothing wrong with that. It's all a matter of what you need and how you want it to look.  Just make sure you have plenty of room for the Fuel Meister II, three 55-gallon drums and your titration table.  Also, make sure you have plenty of ventilation.  You're dealing with methanol even though it's contained in the drum.  You don't want any fumes building up in your work area.

I can't stress that safety angle enough.  It goes without saying but I'll say it: No smoking anywhere near this project.  It's not that biodiesel is more flammable than gas.  It isn't.  It's the methanol I'm worried about.  Treated it like a large drum of gasoline.  Don't take any chances.  That goes for anything inside the area that may spark.  I was going to add a ceiling fan but was advised against it since the motor runs the risk of sparking.

I'm not trying to scare you.  I've never heard of a major biodiesel accident due to explosion.  It's just better to be safe than sorry.

The second big component of this project is where to get your used cooking oil.  I get mine from a restaurant in Brentwood, TN called Vittles.  Last year, when we were trying to get this project off the ground, I took a sample to C&E Biodiesel and they tested it for me.  The oil tested very well.  I now pick up two 35-pound jugs of used oil twice a week.  According to my calculations, each jug holds about 5 gallons (it's sold in pounds) so that's 20 gallons per week.  That's about how much I go through each week so this should work out great.

Check around with local restaurants in your area.  If they're open to the idea, ask for a little sample of the oil.  You may want to take along a mason jar or something like it to make it easier on them to get you a sample.  Do a titration test on the oil.  There are how-to guides all over the Internet on that.  Make sure the oil is sufficient to do the biodiesel before you agree to pick it up.  Most restaurants are delighted to have you come get their oil so they don't have to dispose of it.  What I did with Vittles was I provided them with a nice size funnel with a little filter built in the bottom.  I got it at Ace Hardware.  They simply pour the used cooking oil - after it's cooled - back into the plastic oil container it came in.  These plastic containers are sitting inside cardboard boxes and when they refill them you're going to get oil down the side of the boxes.  You want to make sure you have a shallow pan or something like it in your trunk or wherever you're putting the oil in your car so you don't get oil anywhere.  Or, you can dispose of the box in their dumpster, wipe the sides off with a rag and put the plastic containers in your car.  I still suggest something to set them in just in case they turn over in transit.  I now just make a habit of going to the back of the restaurant on our designated days and pick up the oil.  Then I simply dump the oil in my 55-gallon oil storage tank.  As I begin this project, I have about 45 gallons collected.

With that said, we begin my odyssey into the world of biodiesel.  Keep in mind, I knew very little about this going in.  I'm not mechanically inclined nor do I have a ton of free time.  I read a lot on the Internet and talked to those who have made it but I've found my best source of information has been the Fuel Meister II literature and DVD.  As Atha at C&E Biodiesel instructed me, watch the DVD before you do anything.  I did and I've watched it several times since then.  In fact, I've gone back to the DVD each step of the way.

There are a few things they take for granted that you know which, of course, I didn't.  I'll cover all of that as well.

But, let's get right to it, shall we?

 

Day One - My Fuel Meister II from C&E Biodiesel arrived today.  Bart and Atha from C&E helped me load all the boxes into the shed. There's a lot there since I not only ordered the Fuel Meister, I got the oil heater, the pump station and several other things.  After I've watched the DVD, I'll begin unpacking.

Day Two - Bart from C&E Biodiesel and Frank, a friend of Bart's, delivered the methanol today.  Frank was kind enough to deliver it via his tow truck.  Good thing, too.  That drum weighs about 400 pounds.  If you have a garage or some place with easy access, Frank can just lower your drum onto your dolly (that comes with the equipment).  In my case, there's no easy access to the shed and Frank had to pull his big truck around back.  Of course, it had just rained which made it even more difficult.  He got the drum off the back of the truck and used a hand-truck to pull it to the door of the shed.  We then pulled it inside.  It was much easier than I thought, but, of course, Frank was doing all the work. 

I watched the entire DVD from Fuel Meister in order to familiarize myself with the unit and how everything works.  Tomorrow I plan to jump in with both feet.

Day Three - I watched selected scenes from the DVD again.  Putting the unit together was pretty straight-forward.  The DVD goes step-by-step telling you which hoses go where and what they do.  There are visual instructions in the manual but I found it didn't give nearly the information the DVD did.  I got the Fuel Meister fully assembled and ran some of my cooking oil through there just to watch it work and get used to it.  I also wanted to mix up all the oil I had for the titration phase.  I then pumped all the oil back into my steel drum designated for the cooking oil.

I plan to try to make a 20-gallon batch tomorrow.

My First Batch of Biodiesel

Disclaimer: This blog is NO substitute for the instructions provided by the Fuel Meister II.  This is simply my experience in using the product.  Make sure you utilize all safety items provided with the kit.

Day Four - I arrived at the shed about 1PM. Before I began the titration phase, I wanted to go ahead and begin warming the oil.  They say to warm it to about 130 degrees.  I broke out the heating unit which is like a large heating pad that wraps about the steel drum.  It also comes with a sheet of aluminum-backed insulation.  You have to cut out a hole for the thermostat.  I did that, hooked the heating unit to the drum and taped on the insulation with the supplied aluminum tape.

At that point, I was ready to do the titration.   This is the intimidating part but it's really pretty easy once you get into it.  I found the instructions weren't very clear about which little bottle contained the pH solution.  It's the one labeled "Phenolphthalein 1% in Isopropyl alcohol."  It also comes packed with a twist-off cap.  There's also a little dropper cap included in the box.  Put that dropper cap on your pH bottle.

I tested my oil and determined it was a .6, which is really good oil.  I looked on the chart provided and determined how much lye I would need, measured it out on the scales provided and set the lye aside.

One of the things not covered in the instructions or the video is opening up the methanol drum.  There are two plastic caps on top: a large one and a smaller one.  You simply pull the tab and pull the plastic caps off.  Then there are metal caps below the plastic ones.  I wasn't quite sure how to get those off but remembered an aluminum tool in the titration equipment box that looked like it was made for the job.  It was.  The large end of the tool fits on the large cap and you turn it off like using a wrench. Open the cap slowly.  Depending on the temperature outside, the methanol will hiss as you open the lid.  That's quite normal.  Then, you turn the tool over and use the other end to open the smaller metal cap.

Once I had that done, I screwed in the hoses and followed the instructions on the DVD.  My oil, by that time, was up around 130 degrees so I turned the thermostat off, unplugged the heater and plugged in the Fuel Meister. I then hooked up my recirculating hose and the hoses from the methanol drum, I turned on the Fuel Meister and fed the warm oil into the Fuel Meister and up to the 20-gallon mark. I turned on the recirculating valve then shut off the oil intake valve and the oil began recirculating.  I added about a fourth of the lye through the top with the provided funnel and began adding a gallon of methanol using the short spurt technique suggested in the DVD.  I repeated that process until I had added four gallons of methanol to my 20-gallon batch of oil which gave me a total of 24 gallons.

At exactly 4PM I turned the machine off, waited a few seconds, then turned it back on.  It has an automatic one-hour timer so I was able to walk away, get some things done and come back at 5PM just as the machine was shutting itself off.

After the machine has thoroughly mixed all of the ingredients, you need to wait another hour or so for the glycerin to settle to the bottom.  I opened the top and pulled a sample of the oil in a test tube so that I could watch the progress of the glycerin settling.  Be careful if you choose to do this.  The oil is still warm and there are some serious methanol vapors coming out of the top.  You don't want to get hit in the face with that.

After another hour, I came back to check the progress. My beaker of biodiesel showed the glycerin settling nicely to the bottom and I could see it doing the same thing in the tank.  Just to give it ample time, I decided to wait until the morning before I drained the glycerin.

Day Five - I returned to the shed at 8AM.  I found the glycerin was at the same level at the bottom of the beaker as it was an hour after I ran the machine yesterday.  That tells me that I really don't need to wait overnight on future batches.  I opened up the drain at the bottom and fed the glycerin into one of the containers my oil had come in.  When the dark red run-off turned lighter I knew all the glycerin was out so I cut off the drain valve.  It looked like I got a couple of gallons. Then, I was ready to start the washing process.

I tested the water before I hooked it up to the washer to make sure I was getting luke-warm water.  I shut it off, hooked a short hose from the nozzle on my faucet to the washer lid per the instructions.  I then cut the water on to the settings I had determined would produce warm water and went back to my other tasks, like writing this blog.

After about 30-40 minutes, the washer cut off, meaning the mass of biodiesel on top and water on the bottom had risen to the point to trip the cut-off mechanism.  I opened the drain at the bottom and drained some of the run-off into the sink.  It feels like soapy water.  I caught some in a beaker and added 3 drops of the pH solution. It turned pink. That told me I needed to keep washing.  What I'm looking for is little or no reaction from the pH solution.  I drained it down to where the biodiesel was hitting about 10 gallons, cut of the drain valve and started the process over again.  There's a technique they suggest where you open up the drain about a quarter of the way, allow the level to drop and the water automatically cuts back on but I would have to stand there and hold the drain hose in the sink and I didn't feel like doing that.  What I probably need is another short drain hose that I can hook to the drain hose from the machine. I repeated the process of allowing the mass of biodiesel to rise to the top, shutting off the water.

I noticed when I came back this time that there was a foamy substance between the water and the biodiesel.  I drained the soapy water at the bottom, conducting another pH test as it drained.  There was a little pink but it was very slight.  The instructions say you may still have a little pink and that's fine.  I proceeded to drain the soapy water but when it got to the foamy substance it was like whipped cream.  My drain hose bogged down and I had to close that off then switch to the recirculating lever.  I made sure I had attached the dispenser nozzle to the hose.  You don't want the hose still hooked to the top of your tank or all that whipped cream substance will go right back in the top of your tank.  I shot that out into the sink but I had to waste a few gallons of good biodiesel to get it all out.  I also unhooked the drain hose and rinsed it out real good to get that foam out.

The next step was drying.  There are two ways to do this.  Either you can dispense your biodiesel into a drum and wheel it out in the sun.  Depending on the humidity, it may take several hours to a day or so before it dries enough to use.  Or, you can use the optional drying lid on the Fuel Meister.  I just happened to buy one of those so I hooked it up and began the drying process.

After the dryer ran its cycle, I pulled out some biodiesel and it was very murky.  They say you should be able to see through it and I wasn't even close.  I called Bart at C&E Biodiesel and he said it probably wasn't completely dried.  He suggested putting a cup of it in the microwave for 30 seconds.  This sounds scary but it's perfectly safe.  Unfortunately, I was en route to work so I'll have to save that for tomorrow.  I just hope I haven't ruined my very first batch of biodiesel.  Bart thinks the foaming may have been because of too much lye.  I'll be more careful on my titration test next time and test it twice to make sure I'm adding the right amount of lye.

Day Six - I came back out this morning, took a cup of biodiesel and placed in the microwave for 30 seconds.  When I pulled it out, it was as clear as could be!  Looks like I made a successful batch.  I ran one more test to be sure.  I put a 50/50 mix of distilled water and the biodiesel in a clear cup.  The biodiesel separated perfectly on top with the water on the bottom.  Looks like I'm good to go.  I pumped my batch of biodiesel into my steel holding drum and wheeled it out into the sun to dry.  After a couple of hours, I used my fueling station to pump the biodiesel into a plastic fuel jug then put that into the car.  I would go directly from the fueling station into the car but I can't get the car around the back close enough to the fuel station.  I had about an eighth of a tank of B-20 biodiesel (20 percent biodiesel from a Shell station).  The rest in the tank is 100 percent biodiesel that I made. 

I drove around town, to lunch and then to work.  It seems to be running just fine.  The diesel smell that you ordinarily get with a diesel engine is slowly going away and is being replaced with a hint of fried foods in the air.  Just the feeling of freedom I have today is great.  I'm making my own fuel and I'll never have to pull this car up to a convenience store fuel pump again.  I did stop in just to buy some peanuts and a soft drink.  I felt kinda sorry for 'em.

- Phil Valentine

If you have any questions for Phil, e-mail him at phil@philvalentine.com.  Be sure to include "Biodiesel" in the subject line.

 

 

 

 

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