The Emulsion From Hell And How We Broke It

Recently I had the chance to see one of the worst Biodiesel emulsions I’ve ever seen or heard of in my life up close and personal.

It all started innocently enough. A friend of mine had made a batch of Biodiesel in my BioPro 190 and everything was going well. The glycerin separated off perfect and the oil looked great.

He typically uses oil that’s practically new so he’s never had to worry about conversions taking, so there was no indication that this batch might be any different than any other.

He started the wash cycle on the BioPro and let it start the process. About 8-10 hours into the process he returned to the BioPro to check up on how it was going and found what I affectionately refer to as “The Emulsion From Hell”. He quickly called me and I dropped everything, grabbed my camera, a couple mason jars to sample with & said I’d be right over.

Feeling adventurous, I also filled one of the quart mason jars about 1/3 full of rock salt from my water softener salt bin. I figured, “Hey! It’s worth a shot and if it works, it’ll beat having to scoop the crap out!”

Check out what I found when I got there….
The nasty emulsion 
It had the same consistency and look of a beautiful batch of mayonnaise.

I hit the stir motor to see if there was any liquid at all in there and it just brought more of this nasty mess to the top. If you look close you can see the fill line indicator. That’s 50 gallons of absolute glop you’re looking at!

Biodiesel Pictures OnlineBiodiesel Pictures OnlineLooking down toward the front of the machine I could see what could only be described as every Biodieseler’s worse nightmare staring back at me in the sight glass. Yep! That’s an emulsion all right!

I took one of my mason jars & scooped out a sample and was amazed at the consistency. It really did flow like mayo! Looked about like it too!

So, knowing that if I didn’t break this emulsion my friend and I would be scooping out a gelled mass of goop from the machine, I pulled the salt out & mixed some up with some water in another mason jar and dumped it into the jar you see above, shook it & figured, “Well, here goes nothing!”

What I watched occur before my very eyes just dumbfounded me! The emulsion broke! And it broke REALLY FAST TOO! These pictures were all taken within a 5 minute period. Most of them in under 3 minutes from the time I added the salt water to the emulsified mess.

Check out how fast the emulsion broke! In under 5 minutes my jar of white goo had completely separated! Another 5 minutes went by and the line was razor thin between the layers. I was just flabbergasted!

So, I thought, “Well, let’s see what it’ll do to the rest of the emulsion!” So, I took the rest of the salt I had in the jar (now maybe 1/4 full of rock salt), filled it with water, put a lid on it & shook it until it was dissolved. Then I just dumped it straight into the BioPro. Mind you, just one measly quart jar of salt water was now dumped into 50+ gallons of thick, emulsified goo. I thought it MIGHT put a dent in it, but I didn’t want to get my hopes up too high. Well, believe it or not, that measly quart jar broke the whole batch!

I poured it into the main opening, watched it start to melt the top layer away so I kicked on the stir motor & watched as globs of goo came floating up to the top (it looked a lot like mixing mashed potatoes in a monstrous mixer). Then right before my eyes the emulsion started breaking…and I mean FAST!!! Take a look at the pictures below & you can see just how fast that little quart jar of salt water broke the emulsion.

If I wasn’t there to see it myself, I never would’ve believed that it could have broken the emulsion as fast as it did. It was nothing short of amazing.

So, if you ever find yourself with an absolute mess of an emulsion, instead of grabbing the shovel to scoop it out, give a little salt water a try. You may just get to watch your own little miracle in action too!

Long live salt water! The wonder cure for the nastiest emulsions out there!

We have a great tutorial article on emulsions, why they occur, and how to deal with them.
Click here to see our emulsions 101 article!

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4 comments on “The Emulsion From Hell And How We Broke It

  1. Yeah this is great stuff…I had the same problem and decided to add 5 gallons of the hottest water I could get out of the tap mixed with some Deicer for sidewalks..It broke the emulsion in a flash!!!!

  2. Pingback: Troubleshooting Biodiesel Batches - Tips & Tricks | Utah Biodiesel Supply Blog

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