Understanding How Biodiesel Is Made

Today I had someone call that was interested in learning all the in’s & out’s of how Biodiesel is produced. Out of that question came a list of things that may be helpful to understanding the actual chemistry behind Biodiesel production as well as information on water washing vs dry washing.

I also have information on the different tests I recommend. There’s also links out to several articles (some here & some off-site) that may be helpful.

With that, here’s my list of things bbbthat may be helpful to get you started right:
1) Understanding the chemistry behind Biodiesel
I wrote an article a while back on the chemistry of Biodiesel
Link: http://www.utahbiodieselsupply.com/blog/biodiesel-chemistry-with-your-hands/
It has text as well as 2 YouTube Video’s that will help give you more of an understanding of Biodiesel chemistry & what’s going on.

I’d read the article first & watch the 2 YouTube video’s in the article.
Next, I’d visit our Tutorial Video’s page:

Watch the How Biodiesel Is Made videos and the Titrating Oil video’s.
I cover a lot of the chemistry in really simple terms so that you get a good idea of what’s going on. They’re also really nice & short video’s so you get the information quick & fast.

Advanced Biodiesel Chemistry:
After you’ve watched the video’s above, I’d look at the presentation below.
With the understanding that you’ll have gained from the basic information I’ve given, the chemistry presentation below will be much clearer.

This presentation was put on at a local Biodiesel conference by a Biodiesel Chemist. He kept it really simple and explains what goes on at a molecular level. I’d go over this first.

Link to presentation: http://www.collectivebiodiesel.org/presentations/2011presentations/bush_chemistry2011.pdf
Link to YouTube video of him giving the presentation: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OQ5wJEdqrIA

He also covers a lot of why water can really be a pain in the rear when making Biodiesel.

2) Titrating Oil for Biodiesel Production
Here’s my link to the titration article: http://www.utahbiodieselsupply.com/titration.php

It’s a really nice, simple to follow article on how to properly titrate. There’s even a couple of video’s that go with it.

If you follow this titration method, you’ll be able to make great batches one after the other

3) Processing Oil Into Biodiesel
I did an article recently on the basics of processing the oil into Biodiesel. It has the basic recipe to follow and the instructions on how to figure out the right amount of chemicals.

Here’s the link to it: http://www.utahbiodieselsupply.com/blog/reacting-oil-into-biodiesel-101/

Again, there’s a couple of video’s in there too, some of which you’ll have already watched by this point. None-the-less, they’re there for you.

4) Washing Biodiesel
Once we’ve made Biodiesel, it’s time to wash it. This can be done using water or through using some dry wash technologies.

Basically, our goal is to get the contaminants (soap, glycerin, excess methanol, and anything else) out of the Biodiesel so that we’re left with a nice, clean, ready to use product.

Water Washing – Water washing is by far my favorite method of cleansing Biodiesel of it’s contaminants. It absorbs the soap, methanol, glycerin and any other nasty stuff and leaves the Biodiesel behind. Unfortunately it’s somewhat of a slow process and if there’s too much soap, problems can abound in the form of emulsions. That said, it’s still my preferred method for cleansing the fuel.

Here’s some links to some articles that go over water washing & how it should be done:
Water Washing 101http://www.utahbiodieselsupply.com/blog/water-washing-biodiesel-101-2/
Biodiesel Emulsions – Preventing & Curing Themhttp://www.utahbiodieselsupply.com/blog/biodiesel-emulsions-101-preventing-and-curing-them/

Dry Washing – Dry Washing is the process of removing the contaminants from Biodiesel without using any water. It can be a quicker process to perform than water washing, but it also comes with drawbacks. Namely, most dry washing technologies do not remove the methanol from Biodiesel. They’re good at either removing the soap or altering the soap, but they are very ineffective at lowering the methanol content down to ASTM levels. That said, it’s still a viable option and one that can be explored. Before committing to dry washing though, it’s important to figure out a way to remove the methanol.

Articles on lowering methanol content:
5% Water Pre-Wash Methodhttp://www.utahbiodieselsupply.com/blog/5-water-pre-wash-method/
This method details a process of adding some water to your processor JUST BEFORE you start letting the glycerin settle. It’s extremely effective at lowering soap & methanol levels, but can leave a little water behind. If you choose to use this method, you’ll want to dry the fuel back out before you put it through a dry wash system. You can use the method described below to help get the water back out as well

Removing Soaps & Methanol By Air Bubblinghttp://www.utahbiodieselsupply.com/blog/removing-soaps-methanol-from-biodiesel-by-air-bubbling/
This article discusses using a simple air bubbler to evaporate off some of the methanol. This in turn allows a large portion of the soap to fall out of the Biodiesel making it easier to dry wash your fuel.

Here’s our article on Dry Washing in general:
Dry Washing Biodiesel 101http://www.utahbiodieselsupply.com/blog/dry-washing-biodiesel-101/
It gives a good overview of the different dry wash technologies out there. We also highlight the methanol issue. Again, if you can get the methanol content down using the methods described in the articles above, you’ll be set!

5) Testing The Biodiesel
As you produce the Biodiesel, it’ll be important to test it all along the way.

We’ve developed a recommended testing protocol that we follow when we make Biodiesel. It lays out the different tests that should be performed by any small scale producer and when to perform them along the process.

How To Test Biodieselhttp://www.utahbiodieselsupply.com/qualitytests.php
Testing Biodiesel For Soap Contenthttp://www.utahbiodieselsupply.com/blog/testing-biodiesel-for-soap-content/

While there’s a link in the first article to this test, it’s important enough that I include it here. Soap is such a problem in finished Biodiesel, that you’ll want to really get a good understanding of what it is, how to test for it, and what the limits are

6) Making Great Fuel
We’ve written several articles that have lots of tips & tricks on how to make successful batches of Biodiesel over the years. We’ve included some of the best ones below to read through.

Making Great Biodiesel – My Recipehttp://utahbiodieselsupply.com/blog/archives/406
In this article I cover some tips & tricks that I follow to ensure I get great batches every time.

3 Tips For Successful Biodiesel Production – http://www.utahbiodieselsupply.com/blog/making-great-biodiesel-my-recipe/
This article covers the 3 most important things you’ll want to measure each time you make a batch of Biodiesel. Follow these tips and you’re sure to get great batches!

Troubleshooting Biodiesel Batches – Tips & Trickshttp://www.utahbiodieselsupply.com/blog/troubleshooting-biodiesel-batches-tips-tricks/
In this article, I detail a methodical approach to how I trouble-shoot a batch gone wrong. I then talk about how to fix the problems that you may run into. About 90% of the problems that people have can be tied back to the oil having too much water in it or the titration level being too high (which will also create excess water). If I could give you one single tip that’ll help you the most, it would be to dewater the oil before you start and test it to make sure it’s dry.

The ASTM Guidelines:
The commercial Biodiesel industry has a set of quality guidelines that fuel must meet before it can be sold commercially. They’re called ASTM Tests and the specific one for Biodiesel is ASTM D-6751. A while back I did an article that outlines each test, what it tests for, and why I believe the test is important.

ASTM Tests Explainedhttp://www.utahbiodieselsupply.com/astmtests.php
While many people believe it’s impossible to make ASTM Biodiesel on a home-brew setting, I strongly disagree. With the right amount of attention to detail and testing along the way, it’s definitely possible to make Biodiesel on a home scale that can easily pass the ASTM tests. You just have to understand the chemistry behind what you’re doing, how to test the fuel to make sure you’ve made good fuel, and then follow good quality control practices so that you can repeat your success.

Also, at the bottom of the article is a link out to a discussion I started on a Biodiesel forum where we discuss the home-brew equivalent tests so that you don’t have to send your batches off to an ASTM lab every time.

If you’d like to learn more about Biodiesel, be sure to visit our Biodiesel Articles section on our website. We have several great articles all about Biodiesel, how it’s made, how to test it, how to use it, way’s to dispose of your glycerin, and even details on potential tax incentives.

Here’s the link: http://www.utahbiodieselsupply.com/biodieselarticles.php

Happy Brewing!

About Utah Biodiesel Supply

Utah Biodiesel Supply is an industry leader in offering innovative ways to empower our customers to produce Biodiesel. From free online instructional videos on how to get started making this great renewable fuel to promotional items to help our customers proclaim their energy independence, Utah Biodiesel Supply has it covered. With the widest selection available of Biodiesel equipment, supplies, and promotional items, you're sure to learn something new about Biodiesel every time you visit.

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