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What is BioDiesel? :: A Primer

Overview
Biodiesel is an alternative fuel made from vegetable oil (or animal fat)
that can be used in any diesel engine without any modifications. Boasting
an overall 90% reduction in toxic emissions (compared to diesel), biodiesel
is by far our best alternative fuel option at present. Biodiesel is the
only alternative fuel currently available that has an overall positive life
cycle energy balance (3.2:1, compared to a paltry .86:1 of diesel). It
is renewable, sustainable, domestically produced, and--by all accounts--Oil
Regime free.

Tailpipe emissions of biodiesel are carbon-neutral, sulfur-free, and more likely
to cause slight hunger pains in your gullet rather than make you feel nauseated
by a toxic cloud. Unlike futuristic, hyped-up alternatives such as Hydrogen,
biodiesel is available right now, and is accessible to all who wish to procure
a diesel vehicle and start driving away from the Oil Cartels, rather than blindly
barreling, with the whole of humanity, towards them.

Production Process
Biodiesel is made by way of a simple chemical process known as trans-esterification
(similar to saponification--the chemical reaction used to make soap out of a
vegetable oil/animal fat). The process is simple and can be accomplished by
any intrepid soul with a bent towards the alternative and a vision for sustainability.

Making home-brew style biodiesel begins with the collection of waste restaurant
grease that local restaurant owners are generally eager to part with.
After collection--which is a greasy, grimy job to say the least--the oil is
heated in an appropriate reactor vessel.

Once the oil has reached 120-130 F, it must be filtered to remove any food
particles in suspension (french fries, tofu bits, chicken wings, tempeh chunks,
et al). Methanol and sodium hydroxide (~20% methanol/volume of oil, and
anywhere from 3.5 to 9 grams/liter of oil depending on the quality of oil) are
then mixed in a separate vessel and then added to the heated oil once a homogenous
solution is obtained. The oil/methanol/lye mixture is then agitated for ~1 hour
and allowed to settle overnight.

This is where the magic happens.... At night, under the cover of darkness,
the ethereal biodiesel weasels show up, wag their magic tails, sing their mystical
trans-esterification songs, and, voila!, the next morning, a vessel of
vegetable-based fuel (with the glycerin by-product having settled out of solution,
to the bottom of the vessel), is humbly awaiting its future as an alternative
fuel.

Commercial production methods vary quite a bit, but all draw on the basic outline
given above, with special regard for the biodiesel weasels which work nearly
twice as hard for industrial production.

For a more in depth primer on biodiesel production check out the biodiesel
section of www.journeytoforever.org

Grease Works! encourages small-scale biodiesel production experiments and use.
It is in the minds of backyard biodiesel brewers that the petroleum addiction
is being broken and the Alternative Fuel Revolution is infiltrating the mainstream.

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