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Reader Question: Is it possible to make biodiesel in the basement?


biodiesel - adding oil to bucket

Pouring warm oil into the 5-gallon bucket in preparation for mixing with the methanol and lye.

photo © Adrian Gable

I read your site (specifically making your own biodiesel with waste oil) with quite a bit of interest, and after reading it, I'm beginning to wonder if this is something we could actually do. My husband and I are fairly intelligent people (both college grads) and are wanting to decrease our oil dependence and help our pocketbook at the same time. Following your instructions on the site, it seems fairly straight forward and not too complicated. Have you really been making this in the basement 5 gallons at a time for a number of years?

We use one of our vehicles for the majority of our travel (to and from work) and we're thinking of replacing that with a used diesel engine vehicle and attempt fueling it with homemade biodiesel. Our family thinks we're nuts - we think it's possible from what we've read. Is it truly possible to "brew" this in our basement using 5 gallon buckets? Not needing a thousands-of-dollars system we've read about? And as easy as it seems on your site?

We do live in Michigan (obviously colder weather climate) and we are aware of needing to dilute the bio with regular diesel when the colder temps come. With the higher cost of diesel, does this seem to negate any cost savings you achieve during the warmer months? We would genuinely like to make this switch - just a little nervous of leaving what we know (easily available gas) for something we don't (homemade bio).

Thanks for any encouragement you may have. Jeff and Amy

Hi Jeff and Amy,
Yes, we really have been mixing biodiesel in our basement in 5 gallon buckets for many years—and we’re quite confident that you can too. Seven years ago we learned how to do it from Joshua Tickell’s book, From the Fryer to the Fuel Tank, and took it step by step from there. It’s really not as complicated (or hard) as it first seems; once you get some waste oil and have the basic materials gathered, you can quickly learn how to process it into fuel. Sometimes there are trial and error situations, and we’ve written some home brew biodiesel troubleshooting articles to address these.

When looking for a used diesel vehicle, the most readily available are VW diesels. If you’re going to use homemade biodiesel, we recommend getting one no newer than the mid 90’s—this is to eliminate potential problems with homemade biodiesel and sophisticated computer controlled diesel injection systems. We have mid 80’s Mercedes diesels which are great cars too, but they’re becoming harder to find and can be pricey to fix (especially if you don’t repair them yourselves).

As far as the cost, we’ve found that with purchasing the methanol and lye, the cost for homemade biodiesel rings in between $1 and $1.50/gallon. In the winter time months, we run a 20 percent maximum blend here in central PA. The price of methanol is climbing, as with all other fuels, so it’s constantly changing. We’ve found that even mixing a small amount of homemade biodiesel and diluting it helps to slash fuel costs and emissions, and we feel that it’s worth it—even in small quantities.

If you haven’t already, we recommend reading all of the homebrew biodiesel articles we’ve written before getting started—it will help you understand the entire biodiesel making process.

Please let us know if you have any more questions.

Christine & Scott
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