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Brew your own
November 12, 2002 10:58 AM   Subscribe

Brew your own Biodiesel! My brother just bought a new VW Jetta Turbo Diesel, and one of his reasons for picking this particular car was it's ability to run on reformulated fatty acid alkyl esters.That got me Googling, and I found this site where you can purchase your own home-brew kits. They even have demo starter kits.
posted by 40 Watt (42 comments total)

 
Don't try this in Wales...
posted by Fabulon7 at 11:09 AM on November 12, 2002


And the soot factor?
posted by y2karl at 11:17 AM on November 12, 2002


Also, here's a bunch of resources about homebrewing the stuff.

posted by 40 Watt at 11:23 AM on November 12, 2002


The soot factor? From the articles I've read, Biodiesel cuts emissions versus regular diesel. That article you link to makes no mention of biofuels.
posted by 40 Watt at 11:25 AM on November 12, 2002


From a FAQ: "Biodiesel... smells like a deep fryer when it burns instead of the nasty diesel smell."

And this is supposed to be a selling point?
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 11:28 AM on November 12, 2002


Some of us LIKE the smell of deep-fryers.
posted by 40 Watt at 11:32 AM on November 12, 2002


Besides, which would you rather be huffing- A tailpipe spewing regular diesel fumes, or one spewing delicious french-fry scented fumes?

mmm.....french fries.
posted by 40 Watt at 11:34 AM on November 12, 2002


I long for my return to my diesel roots. I had a diesel Volvo, which was a big slug, but still dear to me, and later on a diesel GMC that was great.
I wish there were small trucks with diesels available. Isuzu had one for a while, but hard to find now.
VW should reincarnate their little truck from with a TDI. I would buy one.
posted by a3matrix at 11:43 AM on November 12, 2002


More diesel soot audio.
posted by four panels at 11:45 AM on November 12, 2002


a3matrix - Check out the AAC (TDI pickup) in the lower right corner on VW's concept car page.
posted by drobot at 11:49 AM on November 12, 2002


I think Diesel Soot Audio would be a great name for a band.
posted by MrMoonPie at 11:49 AM on November 12, 2002


I have a TDI automatic and love the mileage (34 city, 41 highway). I haven't had the courage to create my own Biodiesel, but there is a B20 (20 percent BioDiesel, 80 percent regular diesel) pump in the Boston area.
posted by LinemanBear at 11:53 AM on November 12, 2002


For the soot people:

How do biodiesel emissions compare to petroleum diesel?
Biodiesel is the only alternative fuel to have fully completed the health effects testing requirements of the Clean Air Act. The use of biodiesel in a conventional diesel engine results in substantial reduction of unburned hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide, and particulate matter compared to emissions from diesel fuel. In addition, the exhaust emissions of sulfur oxides and sulfates (major components of acid rain) from biodiesel are essentially eliminated compared to diesel.

Of the major exhaust pollutants, both unburned hydrocarbons and nitrogen oxides are ozone or smog forming precursors. The use of biodiesel results in a substantial reduction of unburned hydrocarbons. Emissions of nitrogen oxides are either slightly reduced or slightly increased depending on the duty cycle of the engine and testing methods used. Based on engine testing, using the most stringent emissions testing rotocols
required by EPA for certification of fuels or fuel additives in the US, the overall ozone forming potential of the speciated hydrocarbon emissions from biodiesel was nearly 50 percent less than that measured for diesel fuel.


(From the Biodiesel.org website)
posted by 40 Watt at 12:01 PM on November 12, 2002


Soot from a biodiesel powered engine is negligible. Soot is caused by sulfur in the diesel, and biodiesel has none. (another TDI driver here)
posted by chutzpah at 12:02 PM on November 12, 2002


Unless you are forced to use a diesel, like so many transit bus systems, I don't see why you would want to emit the increased soot, a.k.a. particulate matter, even if it is less with biodiesel than regular diesel. Yes, biodiesel is renewable, but it is worse for the air, seemingly, than regular gasoline if you use regular gasoline in a car that gets good mileage like a Prius.
    If you are intent on using biodiesel at home, please look into using the new additives that are supposed to cut down the NOx emissions which are higher with biodiesel than regular diesel.
posted by engelr at 12:03 PM on November 12, 2002


the NOx emissions which are higher with biodiesel than regular diesel

engelr-- got a link to info about this? I'm still learnding about the whole Biodiesel thing and any facts would be greatly appreciated.
posted by 40 Watt at 12:17 PM on November 12, 2002


Putting gasoline in a Prius (or a dino-diesel) still takes prehistoric carbon and pumps it into the atmosphere in the form of CO and CO2, though. Burning biodiesel does not add carbon to the carbon cycle this way.

No engine or power source is without its downsides. Diesel engines and biodiesel are interesting answers to problems that gassers do not address as well, fuel economy and renewable energy being important ones.
posted by chutzpah at 12:18 PM on November 12, 2002


BioDiesel means we don't need to ship oil from Middle East, Columbia or any country that at all, we can grow it at home in US.

No need for oil from 3rd World = No more wars

To Chutzpah: what are the downsides of biodiesel ???
posted by bureaustyle at 12:35 PM on November 12, 2002


bureaustyle , such a simple solution, why has no one thought of it before? You mustn't forget, however, oil is used elsewhere. Urban power grids is an example. Plastic is another.
posted by four panels at 12:41 PM on November 12, 2002


Interestingly enough, plastic is one of those things that can also be made from corn, although apparently it's too costly and brittle to really work (Not to derail the thread or anything...)
posted by 40 Watt at 12:45 PM on November 12, 2002


Bureaustyle -- the downside of biodiesel is that it's really kind of a myth that we could completely convert to all bio fuels. Don't get me wrong, that's not a good reason to use it, but to sustain our current energy use with bio fuels, we'd have to convert some massive amount of our land to farms to grow what we'd need to power stuff. Then we'd have to harvest the stuff..... (and so on)
posted by ph00dz at 12:55 PM on November 12, 2002


No need for oil from 3rd World = No more wars

Except, of course, that "no need for oil from 3rd world" actually means "US deliberately tries to wreck the economies of several 3rd world countries by destroying the market for their only export commodity and thereby plunging them into poverty and social upheaval."

Which doesn't sound like a recipe for "no more wars" to me.
posted by jaek at 1:05 PM on November 12, 2002


To Chutzpah: what are the downsides of biodiesel ???

More $$$ for Archer Daniels Midland.
posted by BentPenguin at 1:07 PM on November 12, 2002


Except, of course, that "no need for oil from 3rd world" actually means "US deliberately tries to wreck the economies of several 3rd world countries by destroying the market for their only export commodity and thereby plunging them into poverty and social upheaval."

Except, as a number of folks have pointed out above, there's not a realistic expectation that the U.S. would abandon petroleum entirely. We'd still have the oil monkey on our backs for quite a while.
posted by 40 Watt at 1:13 PM on November 12, 2002


Thanks for the links, 40 Watt, you dim bulb you. I bought a Jetta TDI a couple of months ago and haven't had the time or inclination to try biodiesel, but I highly recommend the TDI. It is addictively fun to drive, and the mileage is great -- about 40 mpg in city driving with a manual transmission.
posted by Holden at 1:23 PM on November 12, 2002


Ah, the TDI.

A tiny 1.9 liter engine and a tiny turbocharger producing an impressive 90 horsepower and a whopping 155 foot pounds of torque.

Change the ECU mappings for a paltry sum and it becomes a crazy dynamo with 145 horspower and 195 foot pounds of torque!

Wheeee!
posted by linux at 2:10 PM on November 12, 2002


Except, of course, that "no need for oil from 3rd world" actually means "US deliberately tries to wreck the economies of several 3rd world countries by destroying the market for their only export commodity and thereby plunging them into poverty and social upheaval."

I'm having trouble with that word "deliberately". Are you seriously saying that converting away from oil would be a hostile act? Or are you saying that buying oil is an act of charity which we bestow on poor third world countries?

When a country depends on a single export for its current lifestyle, it is manifestly not our responsibility to continue to purchase that export so they can maintain that lifestyle.

And you'll have a very hard time getting me to think of the Saudi royal family or the Emir of Kuwait as needy charity cases in any event.
posted by George_Spiggott at 2:33 PM on November 12, 2002


Amen, George.
posted by 40 Watt at 2:54 PM on November 12, 2002


chutzpah: Soot is caused by sulfur in the diesel, and biodiesel has none

!?! Soot is "carbon black", a combination of graphite, buckminsterfullerines, and PAHs, Dioxins, etc... There is very little, if any sulphur in soot. The sulphur converts to SO2. Unburnt sulphides are the characteristic rotten egg/popcorn smell of dirty gas.

The downside of biodiesel? It is expensive. Biodiesel costs less now because it is untaxed and people are using a low-demand waste product, restaurant grease. Were biodiesel sold as a fuel, it would be 2-3 times more expensive than (petro-) diesel.

Finally, let me point out that a vegetable oil spill is about as bad, from a duck's point of view, as a petroleum spill. Canola oil is shipped under similar regulations to crude oil, and for good reason.


posted by bonehead at 3:05 PM on November 12, 2002


Not to go all NORML on this thread or anything, but isnt hemp oil also a good alternative fuel source? I've heard, and this is very possibly apocryphal, that Henry Ford used to grow hemp on his estates as a way of putting the oil companies on notice that they could be replaced.
posted by George_Spiggott at 3:19 PM on November 12, 2002


George: Any vegetable oil can be used as biodiesel. Chemically, they are all pretty similar (or can be made so).
posted by bonehead at 3:35 PM on November 12, 2002


Yes, but there are issues that speak to its commercial viability, such as comparative acreage yields, ability to cultivate on marginal lands, chemical-intensity of cultivation, length of production season, etc., etc.
posted by George_Spiggott at 3:46 PM on November 12, 2002


I'm having trouble with that word "deliberately". Are you seriously saying that converting away from oil would be a hostile act?

If we're converting away specifically to minimize the influence certain countries have on world affairs (i.e. render them powerless), it's easy to see how it could be percieved that way.

And you'll have a very hard time getting me to think of the Saudi royal family or the Emir of Kuwait as needy charity cases in any event.

Not the very top of the pyramid, perhaps, but when you go a step further down there are an awful lot of people who are used to getting lots of money for sitting on their asses all day. Osama bin Laden was one of those people (more or less), and his sources of funding were definitely those people. These people are already in trouble (rising population + constant oil revenue = less money per capita), but a serious shift away from oil and the corresponding drop in prices would speed up the process.

Note: I'm not saying this would be a bad thing. I think that in the long run it would be very good. But it would inevitably destabilize the hell out of the Middle East in the interim, and claiming otherwise is leaving oneself open for unpleasant suprises.

P.S.: what do the Norwegians think about all this?
posted by jaek at 4:17 PM on November 12, 2002


The issues raised by George_Spiggott are the reasons why I think biodiesel will remain marginal. Growing oil is expensive and very wasteful of the plant product. Corn, for example, is tremendously hard on soil and requires staggering amounts of water, pesticides, herbicides and chemical fertilizer. ADM would do their happy dance if we switched to biodiesel (or ethanol, it's all the same to them), but the rest of us would pay considerably more for our fuel.

Furthermore, biodiesel does not get us out of the oil trap. Biodiesel produces about as much CO2 as petroleum fuels, with no greater efficiency. Greenhouse gas emissions are just as bad with biodiesel as what we use now.

I'm afraid I just don't see the point.
posted by bonehead at 5:11 PM on November 12, 2002


Furthermore, biodiesel does not get us out of the oil trap. Biodiesel produces about as much CO2 as petroleum fuels, with no greater efficiency. Greenhouse gas emissions are just as bad with biodiesel as what we use now.

Actually you're mistaken there -- this is the real ecological advantage of biodiesel and ethanol: they are essentially carbon-neutral They sequester carbon from the atmosphere when they grow, and release it when burned.
posted by George_Spiggott at 5:16 PM on November 12, 2002


Oh, and my point about growing conditions was not meant to disparage any form of agriculturally-produced fuel; far from it. I was pointing out that while different vegetable oils may be approximately equal to each other in their utility as fuel, there are very large differences in production efficiency and growing range from one kind of plant crop to another.
posted by George_Spiggott at 5:35 PM on November 12, 2002


BioDiesel is made from plants that require a large amount of oil in the form of fertilizer and processing it is actually a very poor environmental choice.
posted by stbalbach at 6:29 PM on November 12, 2002


Alternative Fuels Data Center.
Alternative Fuel Vehicle Directory.

VW and biodiesel - earlier thread. (Googled 8 MeFi biodiesel threads so far.) Once I spotted a German or Austrian site suggesting that biodiesel should be done industrially to their specifications, and not homebrewed, in order to ensure engine life for your commercial fleet. It's an interesting proposition to think that biodiesel could keep heavy trucking on the road despite petroleum shortages or price hikes- might make our transportation system just that much more resilient in times of crisis.
posted by sheauga at 7:01 PM on November 12, 2002


stbalback writes: BioDiesel is made from plants that require a large amount of oil in the form of fertilizer and processing it is actually a very poor environmental choice.

I'd be curious to see the data for that. First of all, the fuel for processing would in practice presumably consist of a fraction of the biodiesel itself, or other rejected biomass left over from production, so it's still neutral.

As for fertilizer, you can't make a blanket statement like that: different crops grown under different conditions and using different agricultual practices have enormously different fertilization requirements. AS one tiny example in a very large subject, rotatation of different oil-producing crops can help prevent soil nutrient exhaustion and cut fertilization requirements immensely. Peanuts, just for one example, are a superior source of oil and they help restore nitrogen-depleted soil.

I know very little about petroleum-based fertilizers, to what extent they're used and more importantly how essential their use is. Does anyone here?
posted by George_Spiggott at 7:02 PM on November 12, 2002


bonehead: There is very little, if any sulphur in soot.

From a UOP paper on diesel fuel, sulfur in fuel leads to soot. Without sulfur, much less soot is formed:
The sulfur in a diesel fuel is burned to SO2. Some of that SO2 is further oxidized to sulfates, which bind with water to form a portion of the particulate matter. Because only 1 to 2% of the fuel sulfur is converted to sulfates, the contribution of sulfates to the total particulates is only a few percent with current low-sulfur diesel.2 If an oxidation
catalyst is used to reduce emissions of hydrocarbons, CO, and particulate matter, the SO2 can be oxidized to sulfates by the catalyst. The result is a significant increase
in particulate emissions.
Further, the absence of sulfur enables new catalyst technologies to reduce emissions more.
posted by chutzpah at 8:26 PM on November 12, 2002


Re: price (from USDA Ag research center)
Biodiesel fuel currently is more costly than regular diesel fuel. Some of this expense, but probably not all, may be offset by expected reductions in maintenance costs. Also, the price of biodiesel fuel is expected to drop if it becomes more widely used
In addition to land based crops, algae can be grown for biodiesel. There are algaes that produce up to 60% of their biomass as oil. (DOE aqualtic species program--pdf) Algae can also be grown in salt water, and waste carbon from coal burning, which is not likely to go away too soon, and currently presents disposal problems, can be fixed by the algae.

From the above PDF, a tidbit about the relative cleanliness of biodiesel:
Commercial experience with biodiesel has been very promising 5 . Biodiesel performs as well as petroleum diesel, while reducing emissions of particulate matter, CO, hydrocarbons and SOx. Emissions of NOx are, however, higher for biodiesel in many engines. Biodiesel virtually eliminates the notorious black soot emissions associated with diesel engines. Total particulate matter emissions are also much lower 6,7,8 .
Other environmental benefits of biodiesel include the fact that it is highly biodegradable 9 and that it appears to reduce emissions of air toxics and carcinogens (relative to petroleum diesel)10 .
Also from the DOE, this PDF goes into detail about the energy requirements for fertilizing, harvesting, and processing soybeans for biofuels for use in an urban bus fleet. Soy, though, is expensive. Mustard seed biodiesel costs about 1.00 a gallon (Alt Fuels data center, DOE) to produce, and mustard meal, left over after extracting the oil, is a good organic pesticide. I couldn't find comparitive energy and fertilization requirements of biofuel producing crops (I was hoping the USDA would have compiled that data, and indeed they may have, but I couldn't find it).
posted by Nothing at 8:32 PM on November 12, 2002


Finally, let me point out that a vegetable oil spill is about as bad, from a duck's point of view, as a petroleum spill. Canola oil is shipped under similar regulations to crude oil, and for good reason.

posted by bonehead

This is true if your talking about the impact on waterfowl and other aquatic creatures if it gets on them. The oil causes their death by hypothermeia. However if the animals ingest the vegetable oil it is relatively harmless making it much safer than dino-juice. Spill a hundred gallons on a dirt road and it basicly safe to let it get absorbed into the dirt and then biodegrade.
posted by Mitheral at 10:34 AM on November 13, 2002


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