Greasoline: Finding your fuel in fast food

Author:  Simard Jillian
Date:  November 2006

As the cost of fuel remains high, studies estimate that Americans are now spending on average 3.3% percent of the paycheck on gas. That's nearly two thousand dollars a year! But before you have to decide between selling off your first child and gassing up your car, try your hand at making your own fuel, homemade biodiesel. Made from restaurants' used vegetable oil and a few other easily-obtained ingredients, homemade biodiesel can cost less than a dollar per gallon to produce and is more environmentally-friendly than both regular diesel fuel and gasoline.

Using a chemical reaction called transesterification, homemade biodiesel is made by first mixing methanol and lye to produce a liquid called sodium methoxide. The sodium methoxide is then added to the used vegetable oil and eventually biodiesel rises to the top. After a quick purification, the biodiesel is ready for use,just pour straight into a diesel engine and your car's ready to take off. The glycerin left behind after the process is done can even be used to make your own soap, perfect for washing off any extra oil.

Sound a bit too complicated? Don't worry; while it may seem daunting, making your own biodiesel can be surprisingly simple, provided that you take the proper safely precautions and use the right equipment. And obtaining used vegetable oil is easy,fast food restaurants can go through thousands of gallons per year, often having to pay outside companies to remove the oil periodically. Usually owners will be glad to get the oil off their hands.



If you're still feeling intimidated, increasing numbers of organizations are beginning to specialize in selling homemade biodiesel kits to the do-it-yourself crowd, and some of these organizations also offer biodiesel-making workshops to those unfamiliar with the process. For example, regional organizations, such as the Midwest Renewable Energy Association, frequently offer day-long courses for less than $100 and welcome students with no experience.

Aside from being a cost-efficient way for consumers to fill their tanks, many hope that an increased use of biodiesel, homemade or otherwise, might also be a significant step towards addressing the growing concerns of pollution and global warming. Diesel fuel in general is more efficient than regular gasoline, and biodiesel is even better, yielding a comparable mileage per gallon and burning up to 75% cleaner than petroleum diesel fuel. Most impressively, using biodiesel over regular diesel can reduce carbon dioxide emissions nearly completely. Whereas burning petroleum diesel or gasoline leads to a net increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide and contributes to global warming, burning biodiesel only replaces the carbon dioxide that was used to make the fuel in the first place. Better yet, it smells like popcorn!

Before you run off to the nearest greasy spoon to grab a few gallons of grease, there are a few things you should keep in mind if you decide to try your hand at homemade biodiesel. First and foremost, your car will need to have a diesel engine in order to run on biodiesel. If you do not already have a diesel engine, switching would clearly be an initial investment. Alternatively, you might keep diesel in mind if you're ever buying a new car.



Another thing to always think about is safety,lye and methanol, when handled improperly, can be especially harmful to your skin and eyes, so always wear safely glasses, gloves, and a long-sleeved shirt. Finally, if you should decide to make biodiesel in substantial quantities, check out the Federal and state tax laws. As of 2005, a Federal tax applied to anyone who made more than 400 gallons for personal use.

With these considerations in mind, making biodiesel can be a terrific way to take an active role in helping the environment while saving some money in the process. Give it a try,there's not much to lose!