Biodiesel: Just Brew It!

What if, while pumping some $5/gal diesel fuel into your tank, somebody told you you could fill up for pennies a day and, best of all, you could produce the fuel yourself in your garage? While you might be initially inclined to question that person’s grip on reality, the truth is it is possible, and not much more difficult than any other form of vehicle maintenance. Although my own preference is for car-less living, I’m aware that that’s not currently an option for some. This makes the notion of home-brewed biodiesel an especially exciting one to me. Not only does it combine my favorite elements of recycling and DIY, it also removes the brewer from the economically and environmentally destructive cycle of conventional fuels.

Some biofuel enthusiasts power their cars with SVO (straight veggie oil) — the stuff you get out of the French fry vats at the local burger joint. Using the same fry vat oil, the home brewer adds a combination of methanol and lye to the heated oil, lets it sit overnight, drains out the resultant glycerol (a byproduct) then “washes” the biodiesel of impurities. There are open-source instructions online for building and using an “appleseed processor,” the tank of choice for most homebrewers at the extremely helpful and detailed website biodieselcommunity.org.

Joining a local biodiesel discussion group, workshop, or online forum can also provide support and instructions to the curious and the converted. The advantage to biodiesel over SVO is that it can be used in any diesel engine, whereas some tinkering may be required for SVO. The advantage to SVO is not having to handle and store methanol and lye. The advantage to both is no more breaking the bank at the gas station, ever!

Like any foray into self-sufficiency, the thought of brewing biodiesel is somewhat unnerving for the uninitiated, but the numbers of brewers are growing nationwide. Transcending political and philosophical boundaries, brewers are united by their desire for independence from the national “addiction” to petroleum. A revolutionary yet fully practical ideal, whose time has surely come.

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