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Biodiesel: The Fuel for Tomorrow, Here Today

Conscious Living Newsletter, March 2002

On the other side of the mountains, in the fertile Willamette Valley, amongst the mold and mildew and mist, there is a bold beacon glowing brightly in the fog. The air may be heavy and opaque, laden with water, but the light is steady, friendly and warm. When the thick fog finally lifts its sullen veil, after what seems like weeks upon weeks of diffuse light through a stagnant mire, the beacon is revealed: It?s the greasy, grimy, slippery glow of Grease Works!, the sustainable fuel co-op in Corvallis.

Grease Works!, in all of its glorious ardor, stemmed from a backyard fuel experiment of two years ago. In a modest recycled stainless steel tank I began brewing batches of biodiesel and fueling my small diesel pickup for trips to the ocean, desert, and beyond. My roommates thought I was surely on my way to the Salem State Mental Hospital, and my neighbor with 67 cats was convinced I was working on a poison to rid the neighborhood of her feral cat metropolis.

But, Alas, my labors have not been in vain. After 10,000+ greasy miles, the unrelenting help of two close, dedicated friends, and a never ending supply of free, used grease from local restaurants, we are currently producing ~200 gallons/month, and fueling a fleet of 8 greasy diesels.

Simplicity of production is perhaps biodiesel?s most salient virtue: Anyone who can make a batch of cookies can brew a batch of biodiesel. The process begins with collecting, filtering, and heating vegetable oil (used or fresh). Next, a mixture of approximately 20%/volume alcohol (methanol or ethanol) and a small amount of sodium hydroxide (3.5 g-7g/L) is mixed and added to the vegetable oil. This solution is then mixed for 1-2 hours and allowed to settle out overnight. The next morning, by way of miracles divine (and a bit of transesterification to boot), biodiesel has been made.

In terms of emissions, biodiesel is profoundly more environmentally sound than petroleum-based fuels. Being plant derived, biodiesel is carbon-neutral, meaning no net carbon is released into the atmosphere when it is burned (due to the fact that plants, when growing, sequester carbon, storing it as biomass). When compared with diesel emissions, biodiesel boasts a 100% reduction in SOx, a 78% reduction in CO2, and a 50% reduction in CO. Biodiesel is less toxic than table salt, biodegrades faster than sugar, and costs less than 50 cents/gallon to produce yourself.

Biodiesel is a simple technology that is available to the public right now. All one needs to do to severe their petroleum noose is go to our website, follow the biodiesel links to a more detailed recipe than the one outlined herein, and start brewing their own biodiesel. It is our hope that folks interested in biodiesel will band together and start producing biodiesel in their own communities throughout Oregon and the US at large. It is only by actively changing our lifestyles and promoting sustainable technologies that we will one day live the ecotopian dream of sustainability.

Yes, we are all members of The Oil Tribe, and yes, we love our cars and our freedom, and our glorious way of life, but these indulgences beg the question: Is there something I could do to tread more lightly upon this bountiful green Earth??

Justin Soares

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