Saturday, 27 October 2007

1st Big batch!

Today I made a batch in the processor !

I moved 96 litres of Waste oil into the processor, heated to 55C and added the 21.5 litres of Methanol and NaOH. It then circulated for 2 hours and then settled for another hour. I then drained off from the bottom of the tank about 18 litres of dark red liquid (glycerin) until the liquid became a golden yellow/wheat colour.

Here's a sample:

It looks pretty cloudy as there's still a few impurities in there. These will drop out (and be filtered out) once the left over methanol is removed. This is done through evaporation (from heating or naturally to the surrounding air). I heated this sample on the hob and took it to about 70c (around 160F) for 5 mins. Once it had cooled a little I decanted it (there was a distinct puddle of dark "stuff" (liquid and a few lumps) in the bottom) and filtered it through a coffee filter (Google suggests a coffee filter is around 20 microns).
In this shot, you can see the line of the darker liquid and the line at the edge of the bio.

The resulting liquid is much clearer!

I also did a quick test known as the 3 in 27 or 3/27 test. You take 27ml of methanol and add 3ml of the biodiesel (ie the sample). once added, you shake/mix for 5 seconds and then look to see if there is any separation. If the process is incomplete, there will be a "bubble" (a bit like in a spirit level) under the methanol. if there is no bubble, it means the reaction is at or around 96% complete (which is good!). This batch had NO bubble!

Friday, 5 October 2007

Test Batch No2!

On the left is the second batch, about 1 min in. there is a clear line about 1 inch down. above which is golden and clear, below which is cloudy and dark.

The one on the right is the 1st batch, about 18 hours in.

My first test batch

I have made the first test batch of Bio. Its not perfect but there is a layer of glycerin at the bottom and mostly Bio above!

Wednesday, 5 September 2007

Nearly there

I have had a few weeks off in August for holidays etc so progress should have been rather slow. Fortunately, the kids also took a week out to visit their Grandmother.... So progress has sped up!
The two tanks are now connected and the filters are in place too (with their own pump).

The main tank has its heating element fitted just above the start of the cone. Its a simple immersion heater with built in thermostat. The two tanks both have a site tube running down th eside to see how full they are. The same hose type is also used to link the tanks to allow them to breath. Lastly, the breather pipe vents to the outside to prevent fumes building up inside the building.

The second tank is for settling the processed mixture. The mixture of Bio and Glycerin and left over Methoxide will be pumped over and left to settle. Once the glycerin has been drained off, the remaining Bio (with some leftover Glycerin and reactants) is then pumped through the filters. They filter at 20, 10 and 5 microns. The last filter is a 1 Micron absolute filter.

In the foreground yo can see the input filter (Blue and white). This is where the first pump sucks in raw oil. If the oil has been used, it will need filtering, hence the 250 micron filter.

I've mounted the controls for the pumps and heater in this panel here: there's one switch each for the two pumps and the heater. The display on the right is a PID. It monitors a temperature and can turn another device on or off depending on the temperature I set.

Friday, 3 August 2007

Its green Jim....

Since the last post I have been painting and making pipes. I have painted the drums in a mid green chemical and rust proof pant by Hammerite. It has the traditional hammered finish but makes the drums look considerable smarter (even though I do say so myself).
I have also been busy forming the pipe work on the main processor tank. The red pipes have had to be cut by hand (hacksaw) and then threaded with a hand ratchet threader. This is very tedious but much cheaper than a powered device. It takes about 35 mins to cut and thread (both ends) of a section of pipe. Fortunately, they all fitted, though I was worried with one joint where it looked like the section would be a tad too short! (dodged a bullet though by tightening some other joints to reduce the last 1/8 inch).

The pipe work is made from black iron pipe as used in (natural) gas systems (and according to the supplier on airport fuel systems too). Its therefore quite heavy! Hence the small trolley jack in the bottom of the picture holding up the now rather off balance processor tank. The biggest weight is the blue pump mounted vertically to the side of the tank. In an ideal world it would have been tight to the tank but the plumbing it connects to at the base was just too long. Most of the parts are off the shelf so I have just had to deal = longer connectors etc.

This image shows the piping from the base of the tank to the base of the pump. Its an important section; it has a valve (ie a tap to empty/seal the tank), a spur for the sight tube (to see how full the tank is), a branch to the pump inlet and a branch with valve to the outside world for draining as needed. This is why its so long. (ooer!)

Once through the pump, the mixture rises vertically and then either goes back into the processor for recirculation (and further processing/mixing) or if the valve (in the above pic) is shut, it diverts into the other tank for settling prior to filtering.
Back into the top:

The next bit in the build is to plumb the settling tank. I've started but as yet I'm not certain about the links between these bits and the rest..... !?!

Wednesday, 18 July 2007

The dums are back.

The drums have been away for welding over the last week or so (the welder was away mid way hence the time it took..) He has welded along the seam and around the edge of the drums to attach the cones to what will become th ebottom of the tanks:
On the top (bottom of the tank) there is a threaded pipe fitting t allowe the pipe work to attach. This too is welded in place.

Lastly, I the welder has attacjed three box sections of steel to the sides of the tanks. Into these go the support legs to raise the tanks off the ground. Once in place the taks stand a little under 6 feet tall.

Thursday, 12 July 2007

Link - The Sun, New York - BioDiesel for removal trucks

A large removals firm in New York city is due to pilot BioDiesel on 10% of their trucks (around 50 vehicles). The equivalent saving on CO2 emissions of 45 vehicles per year!

If you want to buy BioDiesel in the UK, check out this map to find your local source.

Monday, 9 July 2007

Drum Fabrications

Its been a while since I last posted... I've had the drums in the garage for about 6 weeks or so and they've just sat there! They couldn't even be bothered to keep the cobwebs off themselves!

Anyway, I cut the bottoms out and set about getting the cones made to attach to then (the drums need a need a cone shaped bottom to aid drainage). and hit a brick wall. The plans I have call for a cone fabricated from 16 or 18 gauge mild steel. Its made by cutting out a circular piece of steel with about 25% of the circle missing.

Once cut out, the two edges are joined and voila: one cone! (repeat for drum No 2).

Everyone I called or went to see could do the cut out but not the bending to shape. No one seemed to have the right tools or if they had the tools, they weren't the right size etc etc etc....

In the end I had the metal pressed out flat and did the bending at home, with my work bench and some left over metal bars.

Here it is (shaped but not welded):

Friday, 20 April 2007

PPC - Pollution Prevention Control (Permit)

Forgive me Bloggers, its been a few weeks since my last blog...

Part of the plan to make bioDiesel includes a "is this a business?" aspect. Living in the UK (and therefore the EU) there is a rather a lot of red tape to negotiate, particularly if there's chemical, big business and cars involved!

If we make more than 5 tonnes or about 5000 litres of BD per year, or sell any of it to the public, then I am deemed to be "Commercial" and so need regulating.

I have looked around the web and chat forums for info on the whole regulation thing and read some scare stories about consultants costing 10s of thousands needed to obtain said permits and also of the hoops to jump through if you DIY. By this time I'm getting a bit concerned so I called the Environment agency (who issue the permits) ad spoke to a very helpful chap in the local office. The long and short of it is that there are 2 types of permit, roughly based on if you dispose of by products by land fill/incineration or by other (environmentally friendly) means. His experience suggests most BD producers should be in the second group of "Low impact" permits.

Further, and this is the best bit, he advised they EA expects to offer around 15 hours of his time (he's the one who issues the permit) to assist with the forms/application process etc, free of charge. The only likely consultant costs would be the site survey (a benchmark of current site pollution/status etc).

All you have to do is ask!

Wednesday, 21 March 2007

Benchmark MPG update

Latest fill up:
17/3/07, 63.88 liters, 469 miles, 34.8 MPG avg, 30.8 MPH avg, 91.9p/liter, 12.5p/mile

12/3/07, 67.84 litres, 488 miles, 33.6 MPG avg, 26.1 MPH avg, 89.9p/litre, 12.5p/mile
5/3/07, 64.92 litres, 434 miles, 31.3 MPG avg, 22 MPH avg, 89.9p/litre, 13.4p/mile

A local methanol supplier

I have been posting links to the map of UK bioDiesel suppliers on various bioDiesel forums over the past week and I guess some of those readers have followed the link to this blog too. One of them sent me an email with some info regarding a local (High Wycombe, about 30 mins away) supplier of Methanol. This is good news as most suppliers won't ship the stuff and the only ones I have found so far are in the Manchester area (a couple of hundred miles away!)

Wednesday, 14 March 2007

Benchmark MPG figures

I have put forecourt Diesel into the 530d on 2 occasions so far and noted the mileage per tank (give or take a couple of miles) and the average MPG and Speed as reported by the on board trip computer. My daily drive included stop start/slow commute traffic on the school run (a few miles each day), travel between client sites (I work from home and visit local people or businesses each day, normally within about 30 - 45 mins drive of home) and occasional long trips on motorways. I estimate my annual mileage to be about 15 - 20K.

I bought my 530d with 77K on the clock. Its a BMW straight 6 turbo Diesel engine linked to a 5 speed "step tronic" auto box. The whole thing is in a big heavy 5 series touring (aka estate/station wagon) chassis that weighs around 1700Kg (3750lbs).

The first fill up 5/3/07, 64.92 litres, 434 Miles, 31.3 MPG avg, 22 MPH avg, 89.9p/litre
The next fill up 12/3/07, 67.84 litres, 488 Miles, 33.6 MPG avg, 26.1 MPH avg, 89.9p/litre.

I have found this great site by Robin White to do the conversion of miles and litres to miles per gallons.

From this site I have done 30.4 MPG and 32.7 MPG on the two tanks.

One of the reasons to make bioDiesel is to save money. To help workout the savings I need a benchmark of "normal costs" to compare against. With the cost per tank and the mileage per tank I can work out that the two tanks have cost me £0.134 per mile and £0.125 per mile.

I will try to keep up with the data as I drive and in time put it into a graph.

Monday, 12 March 2007

Drums 'R' us.

Well I now have two not so shiny 55 gallon oil drums, former use was to store Acetone (nail varnish remover) that has since been used and removed/cleaned :-)

Next stop for them will be to weld in the heater and various pipe connectors.

This weeks work stream

This week I plan to collect 1 or 2 55 gallon oil drums to use as the process tank and as a wash tank. There are a few on eBay but alas they are not on the door step. there are some in Essex (about 100 east), some in Bristol (about 100 west) and some in Winchester (about 45 miles). Thus I need to dash down to Winchester to collect them; although they are cheap (about £10/$20) having them shipped here would be very expensive (around £30/$60). I have also found someone to ship me the required chemicals too (again at sensible prices).

Assuming I can get these parts organised, the next stage is to get the heater (a low power immersion heater) form the local plumber's shop and the pipes and fittings to link it all together.

Long time no post.

I have been struggling with getting my map of bioDeisel suppliers to work correctly over the past week. The map uses a java script to place the markers and handle the clicks that causes the data to be shown. I had it going with 10 markers with no issues. any more than that and it bombed out?!!?

I now have a robust script in place to deal with 200+ markers!

The URL for the map has change too and is now

This week I shall be collecting chemicals and hardware for the project.

Thursday, 8 March 2007

The project plan

Its said that "if you don't plan, you plan to fail". My plan is thus:

Collect the chemicals and hardware to build a mini system. I will need: Potassium Hydroxide (KOH), Veg oil, Methanol, Titration equipment (if using waste oil), an immersion heater and thermostat, small pump, some chemical resistant pipe and a couple of 20 liter metal tub/drums.

Once the method is proven (and there are numerous methods on the Internet that are shown working) the next phase is to rationalise the process flow and scale the system up a bit to make a larger volume of diesel. On larger systems its easy to get over run with pipes, pumps and taps. Hence the need to fully map the process before building it, thus avoiding duplicate links etc and reducing cost.

Where's all the Methanol?

One of the key components of this little adventure is the chemical Methanol. It is used to bond with the vegetable oil to make the Diesel. Methanol is not very nice as a day to day chemical but not that bad as industrial chemicals go... However, finding someone to sell it to me has been a little tricky. Even more difficult is getting someone to deliver it to me! I can collect from a few places in the West Midlands and Manchester but there not really on my way. I could get 1000liters delivered but its a little more than I need at the moment. (1000 liters would make about 5,000 liters of of diesel).

I could buy it form a motor sport outlet but then I'd have to pay fuel tax as its classed as "road fuel".

I will keep looking!

Monday, 5 March 2007

A "Where can I fill up?" site

If you Google "where can I buy bioDiesel" in the there are very few actual list of retailers/resellers. There are even fewer UK based ones! The one that keeps coming up from a variety of links is but its not (in my opinion) the easiest to use. Thus I have knocked up the following:, based on Google maps UK map, the site shows graphically where the listed sites are. Most people know where they live/work are about to travel too so they can zoom in and click on info about the local supplier. There's also a link to add new supplier details too! Now to make it look a bit more pretty and then publicise it.

Saturday, 3 March 2007

Condenser assembley.

The next phase of the condenser is to make the water jacket.

This afternoon I went to three different DIY shops (Hardware stores for the US readers) looking for 3 inch plastic pipe and end caps. The pipe was easy, its used for drain pipe on guttering. The end caps were impossible; who would want to seal a drain pipe!?!

So the solution I have come up with is to use slightly narrower pipe (I have had to tighten the coil I made yesterday) and use part of a sink "U" bend plastic molding for caps.

I have drilled and fitted brass connectors in one end cap (this will be the bottom end where the cold water feeds in and the liquid Methanol drains out of the coil) and one fitting in the other (top) for the water to exit again. Near the top of the pipe I have drilled a hole for the top of the coil to exit and attached a fitting there to connect to the processor.

The caps are jointed to the pipe body with "no more nails" adhesive. If that fails I have some "plumber's mate" that sets on contact with water....

Friday, 2 March 2007

Its bending time!

So last night I decided to make something; - the coil for the methanol condenser.

The goal is to make a small coil of pipe to go inside a water jacket. The vapourised methanol gas goes in the top and condenses as it goes through. At the other end now liquid methanol is piped back into the can to be reused.

I have seen various condensers on the web, most seem to be very long and thin. One stood out by virtue of its shortness. The maker had coiled the pipe inside the water jacket, increasing the surface area (ie more efficient) and also reducing the height.

So, I obtained some 8mm copper pipe and a couple of end caps from a friendly local plumbing shop and filled it with very fine sand (which I had dried in the oven for 30 mins to make it easier to put in the pipe). The problem with copper pipe is that it pinches when bent. (think of a piece of hose pipe when folded) To get round this, plumbers use a spring inserted into the pipe to ensure the round profile is maintained as its bent.
The spring can then be twisted to shrink and release form the now bent pipe. the problem is that the coil I need is lots and lots of bends (the more bends, the harder to remove the spring), all one after another, plus the length of pipe I need (about 2 meters/6 feet) is too long to get a spring into and then back out of.

The solution is to use the old fashion way of pipe bending - fill it with sand and cap off at both ends (to stop the sand being pushed out by the bending force).

Once filled with sand, I found a highly engineered device to bend my pipe around - a can of windscreen de-icer! the diameter was about 2 1/2", just right for the 3" plastic pipe in am aiming to use for the water jacket.

Once bent to shape its time to remove the sand....

Removing the top and bottom end caps allows some of it out but the rest is compacted in pretty tightly. a gentle tap with a metallic object was enough to encourage some more of it out but in the end a swift rotating hand action (as you would do to get a yard of ale going - sorry for those of you who haven't been to an English pub for murky dish water drinking activities ;-) ). Out came the sand and I was left with an aesthetically pleasing piece of plumbing. Its a shame its going to go inside a plastic pipe and never be seen again!

Diesel Vs. Hybrid...

When a dirty Diesel is better for the environment than an Eco friendly hybrid.

I stumbled onto the following page in my travels. Part way down the page is a table comparing the CO2 emissions of a VW Jetta and a Toyota Prius. The Jetta's CO2 pound/mile is significantly lower when run on either B80 or B100 (B80=80% BioDiesel, 20% petroDiesel, B100 = 100% BioDiesel). In fact B100 returns CO2 emissions that are over 50% LOWER than the Prius.

Why Bio Diesel?

Well for a start BioDiesel (BD) is cheaper than regular petrodiesel (PD)... well kinda.

In the UK, BD for road use is taxed at £0.20/litre LESS than Ultra low sulpher Petro Diesel so the logic goes it should be £0.20/liter cheaper right? WRONG. You need to buy eqpment to make/store it, chemicals to react it and you might even need to change the car's fuel filter too (more of that later). Anyway, after all of that it should still be cheaper, just not quite as much cheaper as in the rest of the world where governments have sought to grow a sustainable BD industry by setting low tax rates or even NO tax rate for BD production.

But the other reason (Why BioDiesel?) is the environmental benefits. There are numerous resources on the net, some by universities, some by "word of mouth" as to teh benefts. Generaly they are as follows (in no particular order):

1> 100% reduction in Sulpher emmisions
2> Up to 50% reduction in Carbon Monoxide and particulate emmisions
3> 70 - 90% reductions in hydrocarbon emmisions
4> 75%+ reduction in Carbon Dioxide emissions

In addition to these auditable reductions, the EPA considers BD to be non toxic and biodegradable. BD is made from vegetable oil; either virgin or previously used for cooking. Thus the plant that "grew" the oil is a collector of carbon, balancing the car's emission of the carbon while driving. BD is therefore almost carbon neutral (there is some energy used in its processing).

So that's why BioDiesel!