With the end of cheap oil and the appearance that gas prices won’t be coming down anytime soon, some drivers are investing in a machine that will turn restaurant waste into fuel in a fully-automated process.
While a biodiesel processor might not turn water into fuel, within 40 hours it can turn waste oil into diesel suitable for your car. It’s not as cheap as mixing up a batch in your kitchen, but you don’t have to get your hands dirty. Erik Frye from Real Goods explains why turning waste oil into viable fuel is steadily gaining speed while demonstrating a do-it-yourself fuel-making machine (sold in their store).
Erik Frye: “A big segment of the energy consumption in this country and elsewhere is transportation. As electronic cars are being developed, that would be a good thing, but they’re not really ready prime time yet. Diesel vehicles are.”
faircompanies: How does a biodiesel processor work?
Erik Frye: You put waste oil. It’s got transfer pumps so you can use the neoprene hose to make your transfer from 55 gallon drums of waste oil, which is the feed stock for this, any vegetable or animal oil. You can use virgin oil too, you know, if you have access to like a rancid olive oil. Some people actually have soybean oil, or something that didn’t meet the specs for human consumption.
So the vessel fills up, it has a 50 gallon capacity. In this part over here (points to an opening on the left side of the machine) you’d be adding methanol, 10 gallons of methanol and probably about 4 pounds of potassium hydroxide, lye. In this part (another opening), you have to add a little less than a pound of sulphuric acid. Then you put the start button, and then the reaction takes place.
It breaks the oil, the triglycerides into pre-fatty acids and it sheers off the glycerol. And so the reaction takes about 16 hours. It stirs, it heats, it’s all automated. And at the end of 16 hours you got a line, right about here. It’s all glycerol. And then above it you’ve got this nice yellow pre-fatty acids, which is what bio-diesel is. Glycerol can be used as dust-off on gravel roads.
Then you start a wash cycle, hot water. And that takes out any of the unreacted chemicals, and that takes another 24 hours. So at the end of 40 hours, now you got 50 gallons of biodiesel.
Can you make this in your house?
Well, you can put this in your garage and make it. It’s designed to work on a 20 amp circuit. You can do it in your garage. It’s actually recommended that you would do it in an enclosed area that has some ventilation, because methanol, there will be some out-gassing of the methanol and it’s a nerve toxin. So, the chemicals you have to use with this are not pleasant chemicals.
Who would likely use or purchase a biodiesel processor?
Well, you know, we’ve sold ten of these to concrete pumping companies; commercial truckers; there’s been two that have gone to vineyard management companies; commercial fishermen. There’s a couple of communities that have bought them.
Is making your own fuel cost efficient?
You don’t have to pay road tax. If you run machinery for the farm, you don’t have to pay road tax. You can produce the fuel for 80 cents a gallon. That’s what it costs, with your chemicals, and your electricity, to make your fuel. The cost of this device is $8000. So after 4000 gallons, with diesel fuel costing around $2.80 at least, it takes about 4000 gallons to break even on your capital cost expense.
So people are very interested. They can make your own fuel with this, which definitely frees up, you know, being enslaved to the petroleum companies.
If you have a capital cost in a diesel vehicle, you’ve got 25 or 35 thousand dollars invested in the vehicle at least. So, with a machine like this, if you have access to waste oil source, restaurants is the prime one, then you can make your own fuel.
Is the total price of producing your own biodiesel fuel approximately 80 cents a gallon?
Yes, if you can get your waste oil for free. That’s assuming you’re getting your waste oil for free. And restaurants produce waste oil. McDonalds, Burger King, those guys have got contracts that [their waste oil] goes to be sprayed over dog food.
So that is not available for those of us that want to make our own fuel. But, there are plenty of other independent restaurants that do produce a lot of waste oil. They used to have to pay to get rid of it.
In Northern California, there are so many people doing this that it’s hard to find a waste oil source. In the Mid West, there’s lots of material, in the South also.