Archive for the 'General Biodiesel' Category

Mat-Su College Biodiesel Class October 2014

August 28, 2014

VanniepooSorry for missing everyone at the 10th Annual Renewable Energy Fair, but we spent our summer veggin’ around the state of Alaska in our 1982 Vegoil-converted VW Vanagon Westfalia – lots of fun with cost-free carbon-free fuel!

Once again, UAA Mat-Su College is offering a BASICS OF BIODIESEL AND VEGETABLE OIL FUEL SYSTEMS course for one credit in the University of Alaska System this October, 2013.

Make your own biodiesel, design a SVO-fuel system for your diesel vehicle, investigate Alaskan vegetable-oil heating options.  Proper lab techniques, basic vegetable oil chemistry and appropriate vehicles for conversion will all be covered.

Classes will be held at Mat-Su College, off Trunk Road about a mile north of the Parks Highway, past Mat-Su Regional Hospital.

We will hold FIVE 3-hour Classes on Wednesdays: October 1, 8, 15, 22, 29 from 5:00-8:00pm.

Register directly through Mat-Su College at Course# RE A194F

Call the college at 907-745-9746 or instructor Will Taygan at 907-688-5288 for more information.

Full disclosure: I’ll be teaching this class. Veg On!


Fatty Acid Profiles of Biodiesel Feedstock Fats and Oils

March 5, 2010
Click to Enlarge

Click to Enlarge.

The Renewable Energy Group has released a free Feedstock and Biodiesel Characteristics Report, a fairly comprehensive analysis of – yep, you guessed it! – a whole bunch of animal fats and vegetable oils.

One area they analyzed was the fatty acid profiles of common fats and oils used as biodiesel feedstocks.

If you don’t know already, fatty acid chains are the long skinny carbon chains dangling from the alcohol on a fat or plant oil molecule.  In naturally occurring oils the alcohol is glycerol, and holds onto three fatty acid chains.  In biodiesel the glycerol has usually been replaced with a methanol, and connects to a single fatty acid chain.

(Note: most biodiesel brewers will have heard of free fatty acids, or FFAs.  These are fatty acids that are no longer attached to their alcohol.)

As a reference point, the cetane molecule in diesel is 16 cabons long, and is fully saturated (coated, for lack of a better word) with hydrogen.  (Of course the fossilized diesel fuel lacks the alcohol on the end.)

Okay, how to read this chart:

The first number shows how many carbons long the fatty acid is, and the second number tells how many hydrogens it’s missing (in these places the carbon double bonds to itself and the oil is considered unsaturated).  If you look, most of these natural fats and oils are 16-18 carbons long, very similar to diesel!

You can guess cold weather flow properties by how unsaturated an oil is.  Straight fully-hydrogenated chains pack together tightly, like uncooked spaghetti, and usually make a butter-like solid.  Unsaturated chains (missing some hydrogens) have kinks and bends where the carbon double bonds to itself, making a tangly mess like cooked spaghetti.  These unsaturated oils tend to flow better at cold temperatures (note: “hydrogenated” oils are unsaturated ones that have been treated to become saturated.)

Although unsaturated oils flow better, they also have slightly less power (less dense), and are less stable.  Those double bonds are more susceptible to degradation by oxidation, breaking apart and/or reconnecting into a varnish.

Veg On!

DVD Review: BioLyle’s Biodiesel Workshop

September 12, 2009

biolylebiodieselworkshopHooray! BioLyle has come out with a 4+ hour 2-DVD set of his popular Seattle biodiesel classes.  This is a fabulous resource for those out there who can’t attend a class in person, or for folks who want a review of the start-to-finish biodiesel process.  For the new or intermediate brewer, Biolyle’s Biodiesel Workshop DVDs make an excellent complement to the biodiesel community website and B100 Supply’s Home Brew Biodiesel book.

As a biodiesel educator, I was impressed with Lyle’s techniques and methods. Though not identical, they are very similar to the ones I teach.  He starts out with half an hour of lecture about the benefits of biodiesel and the basic chemistry.  Next comes a titration lesson and lab session, with his students trying their hands at chemistry.  Lyle works in a demonstration of the appleseed processor, and then runs through a whole slew of tips, tricks and advanced methods: oil collection, quality testing, drywashing, byproduct disposal and even methanol recovery!  Yep, methanol recovery – the way to make your biodiesel cheaper and your glycerin cleaner.

The second DVD is divided into two parts: operating a home-built appleseed processor and running the BioPro reactor.  I am a big fan of the water-heater based appleseed processor, and after seeing Lyle’s setup I’m excited to add a few improvements to my own system.  He doesn’t tell you how to build it, but points you to B100Supply’s Home Brew Biodiesel book and the detailed plans at Utah Biodiesel Supply.  It’s definitely a demonstration: I got a little confused as to where all his hoses went, but I’m pretty clear on how he moves oil around his shop.

The last hour is dedicated to the BioPro reactor and Lyle’s biodiesel coop.  The BioPro is not cheap system, but it’s the only store-bought biodiesel processor that I can recommend.  Lyle’s is the first detailed video demonstration of the BioPro I’ve seen.  It’s excellent and should definitely be included with every BioPro sold!  Lyle shows us not only how easy it is to run the system, but shares a number of tips to keep things running smoothly an efficiently.  To top things off, Lyle covers the inner workings of his Dirty Hands biodiesel cooperative – a great way to bring a BioPro to your neighborhood!

Although Lyle’s DVD has fancy menus and packaging, I was a little surprised by the low-budget recording.  But, the content is great and the chapter layout is stellar – you can easily jump around to parts that you may have missed or want to review.

As a bonus, Lyle includes a pint-sized 14 page guide to brewing biodiesel, and although you may need reading glasses for it, the information is excellent.

Overall a highly recommended DIY biodiesel set.  Get it for an introductory price of $39.95 at or

Veg On!

Greasy Rider Film Free on Hulu!

April 22, 2009

Greasy Rider 2In celebration of Earth Day the kind folks at Greasy Rider have put their film up on Hulu!

We showed this SVO Road-Trip documentary at the Anchorage Museum of Art last year.  Read our review here.

Veg On!

Vegwerks joins the Biodiesel Blogs Aggregator!

September 6, 2008

Piedmont Biofuels Aggregator

We’re honored to be included in Piedmont Biofuels’ biodiesel blogs aggregator at:

To quote from the Collaborative Biodiesel Tutorial:

A blog is an online diary. The biodiesel world has several such diarists, ranging from listings of news  articles about biodiesel, to very personal essays on small-scale biodiesel business, biodiesel co-operatives, and biodiesel homebrewing. These ‘blogs’ are collected into one single web page at the Aggregator page.

Veg On!

Biodiesel Homebrew Guide: The Definitive DIY Manual.

July 16, 2008

Biodiesel Homebrew GuideBiodiesel Homebrew Guide by Maria “Girl Mark” Alovert: everything you need to know to make quality alternative diesel fuel out of waste restaurant fryer oil.

This is the book that I used years ago to learn how to brew biodiesel and build my reactor. It’s currently up to edition 10.5, revised in 2007. There’s no fluff here, no personal stories or politics, just the information you need to make your own biodiesel.

Girl Mark is one of the best known and well respected activists in the homebrew biodiesel community. She is famous for traversing the country leading workshops for the masses. She is the inventor of the water-heater based weldless-fumeless Appleseed processor and is a DIY expert on many internet forums.

Her book was written as a companion to her classes and it reads in a very comfortable, conversational tone. After a quick overview of biodiesel versus other veg-fuels; she jumps right into what to expect when using biodiesel, the good and the bad – in a friendly, but honest way.

With an eye for keeping it cheap and accessible to DIY folks, she emphasizes alternatives to expensive scales and chemicals, while still being safe. Biodiesel Homebrew Guide then leads you through test batches, titration, dewatering techniques, brewing fuel and quality testing.

The coolest thing about this book is its focus on chemistry for non-chemists. Yes, there’s a quick explanation of what’s going on in your reaction, but where the Biodiesel Homebrew Guide really shines is explaining what the reaction should look like, what it shouldn’t look like, and how to test and fix substandard reactions. She explains and describes emulsions – ways to break them, and ways NOT to break them. The book tells you which popular DIY tests work, which ones aren’t worth doing – and explains WHY. The book even goes into detail about the little white clumps that occasionally show up, and the creamy middle layer that we sometimes see.

Biodiesel Homebrew guide covers water-washing options, goes into depth about the pros and cons of each technique, and gives recommendations about which mist nozzles work best. It also includes a really cool section on acidulating and purifying glycerol, as what comes out of the processor is only about 40% glycerine – in a cocktail of methanol, soap and catalyst.

Finally Girl Mark provides a number of plans for building a basic or a bell-and-whistles Appleseed processor and stand-pipe wash tank.

Like other homebrew books it does not go into methanol recovery or acid-base reactions, but it does point you in the right direction – if that’s where you are headed.

Biodiesel Homebrew Guide is definitely a work in progress, perhaps more like a ‘zine than a book. It came as a stapled together pile of photocopies and contains a number of spelling and grammatical errors. There are also a few places where it seems that some paragraphs had been updated, but others referred to older editions of the book.

It’s not a slick shiny book, but it is the DEFINITIVE guide for the thrifty do-it-yourself crowd. If you want to understand what’s going on in your processor, and how to make quality fuel, then this is the book for you.

It’s the perfect complement to b100supply’s Home Brew Biodiesel – which has clearer plans and recipes, but doesn’t go into as much depth about what you’re seeing happen during the reaction.

You can buy Biodiesel Homebrew Guide for $18 (including shipping to Alaska) directly from Girl Mark at

Veg On!

UPDATE SUMMER 2009:  Girl Mark has been out of touch for a while, so it looks like the book is currently “out-of-print.” Try B100Supply’s Home Brew Biodiesel book instead.

Book Review: Do It Yourself Guide to Biodiesel

May 11, 2008

diy-biodiesel-bookReading the “Do It Yourself Guide to Biodiesel” by Guy Purcella was like having a long conversation with someone who is very knowledgeable about biodiesel, but on a different page.

Purcella sells a plastic-cone based biodiesel processor and obviously believes in safe, quality homebrew made in his design. Thankfully the book isn’t a 230 page advertisement, but it does go to lengths to describe why the plastic cone-processor is a good idea.

Personally, I am opposed to mixing heated flammable chemicals in plastic.

He also strongly encourages folks to buy a pre-made processor or at least a kit. Now, the kit and DIY resources he recommends – Utah Biodiesel Supply, the Infopop Biodiesel-SVO forums and the Collaborative Biodiesel Tutorial are the same ones I point folks too, so I’m not sure where our paths diverged.

This may be the book for you if you want to buy a processor and have it “just work.” Which, interestingly is the conversation I’ve been having recently with a few local folks.

Purcella goes into great detail describing everything except building a processor: the standard personal story, why petroleum is bad and biodiesel is good, oil collection, storage and titration, and quality testing homebrew, as well as storing, filtering and pumping the final product.

It’s got a lot of information. Perhaps a little too dense for those just interested in biodiesel, but good for folks who are thinking about buying a pre-built reactor. This is probably the only book that lists a “buyers guide” to pre-built systems, and really lays out the big picture of what’s required beyond the processor.

Of course, for those hardcore DIY types, my favorite book for actually building a processor is Home Brew Biodiesel from b100supply.

Veg On!

I adore biodieselSMARTER

May 8, 2008

biodieselSMARTERAll the information you need to home-brew biodiesel is floating somewhere out there on the internet. It’s finding the right information with the angle you want that’s difficult.

Issue number 6 of biodieselSMARTER showed up in my mailbox yesterday and I couldn’t put it down. First of all, it’s written by folks with sustainability in mind. The full-page ad inside the front cover reads “The greenest car you own? Mass transit. Try not to drive at all. Icebergs will float in your honor… Respect the Biodiesel.” Nice.

In addition to the regular columns, this edition includes glycerin composting trials and horror stories of illegal glycerin dumping. There are articles on desert thriving moringa and snow-planted camelina as feedstock crops. Also in the mix are a couple of farm-scale case studies, a bicycle-powered reactor built by high school students, and a piece on PrairieFire Biofuels, which serves both the SVO and biodiesel scene in Madison, Wisconsin.

The camelina article is especially pertinent for us Alaskans. In fact, Hans Geier – the Delta Canola biodiesel farmer – sent me a small packet of camelina for a little test plot I’ve got going in the orchard. Much to my chagrin, Hans and some other local farmers have been really keen on blending unheated oils with diesel and/or other thinners. Interestingly, these Albertan farmers are doing exactly that, with locally grown and crushed off-spec canola. Although in general I’m not a proponent of blending, I’m glad to see biodieselSMARTER embracing the larger sustainable biodiesel-vegoil community.

Don’t have a subscription yet? It’s a little ‘zine, but filled with quality information, and it’s only TEN BUCKS for a year-long subscription.

Veg On!

Book Review: Home Brew Biodiesel – a fabulous DIY manual.

April 15, 2008

Home Brew BiodieselB100supply has put out Home Brew Biodiesel, a unique and extremely helpful guide to brewing your own biodiesel. It reads a lot like a lab manual or a build-it-yourself guide: lots of pictures, lots of detail, lists of tools and supplies needed to build and operate a water-heater based biodiesel setup.

The Appleseed processor plans, wash tank plans, misting set-ups, overflow systems, basic electric control panels and more fill the first half of the guide. The second half provides step-by-step instructions to operating your new processor, and the appendices cover quality testing procedures, a few intermediate-level processing methods and waste stream management techniques.

Much of this information is free on the internet, but B100supply has done a wonderful job of wading through the crap to bring you the gems.

Most DIY biodiesel books spend a whole lot of time telling personal stories and explaining why petroleum is bad and how biodiesel is going to save the world and our pocketbook. Home Brew Biodiesel skips all the fluff and tells you how to build a processor, make your fuel, and test it for quality.

It’s remarkable that the book not only covers collecting and testing oil, but goes into such processing details as how long to heat, how long to mix, and how to test if your batch is done. With the wide range of opinions on the internet, it’s nice to have an authoritative guide to start you on your way.

This book does not go into acid-base reactions or methanol recovery, but even advanced brewers will find some of the testing techniques, waste stream treatments and wiring setups interesting.

Unfortunately for Alaskans, B100supply usually ships by UPS, which makes even little parts quite expensive. But they do offer their Home Brew Biodiesel book through cafepress, where the shipping is a reasonable five bucks.

It’s definitely the best guide I’ve read for actually building a processor.

Veg On!

Biofuels [kind of] Blamed in Food Crisis

April 15, 2008

The Anchorage Daily News ran a New York Times article at the top of the Nation and World section today that the ADN retitled “Biofuels blamed in food crisis.”

Other than the inflammatory title, the article itself is pretty good. It admits that biofuels – especially corn-based ethanol – does have an impact, but that it is “relatively small and that energy costs and soaring demand for meat in developing countries have had a bigger impact.”

The article goes on to report that “grocery prices in the United States increased about 5 percent over the last year.”

A decade ago we were lamenting that family farms were failing because of low crop prices. The soybean growers had a market for their meal, but the oil was terribly undervalued. They went ahead and formed the National Biodiesel Board to create a market for their soybean oil. It looks like they succeeded.

That being said, it’s easy to take a good idea and implement it poorly. The giant Three Gorges Dam in China is a terrible example of hydropower. Altamont Pass in California was built in the middle of a raptor migration route, giving a wind power a bird-killing reputation that has been hard for it to shed.

There’s no way we can grow ourselves out of our fossil fuel addiction. Biofuels, however, can be a sustainable part of our future energy mix.

Capturing waste fryer oil and oil from discarded fish carcasses could provide over 13 million gallons of biodiesel in Alaska every year. Combine this with the Canola production potential of the old barley farms in Delta, and we will have a significant impact on our local energy needs – sustainably – and without completing with global food supplies.

P.S. If you want more insight on the food vs. fuel arguments check out Clayton’s post over at

Veg On!