Sustainable Blog

DIY Kitchen Biodiesel

Coming to a countertop near you?

Photo Credit: Kaustav Bhattacharya via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Kaustav Bhattacharya via Compfight cc

In past posts we’ve illustrated how to upcycle your kitchen scraps into healthy soil using worms and Bokashi. Now you can convert your kitchen oil waste into something useful as well – biodiesel. There are several companies making biodiesel processors small enough to fit in a shed. Springboard Biodiesel, based in California, makes three different biodiesel processors that produce between 40 and 100 gallons per batch. Their website includes a handy Return on Investment Calculator that allows you to see how quickly each of their processors will begin to save you money. Springboard Biodiesel claims that with their processors, you can make ASTM-grade biodiesel for only 90 cents per gallon.

Unlike its larger, shed-dwelling counterparts, the new Biobot 20 from U.K.-based company Biobot, can fit on a kitchen counter or tabletop, making the whole process more convenient and portable. The Biobot 20 converts new or used cooking oil into biodiesel that can be used in any diesel engine. Colin Bolton, Director of Practical Energy Solutions, the company that launched Biobot, stated in an email, “We normally encourage initial users to add anywhere from 5% to 20% [of the biodiesel] to your normal mineral diesel. Biodiesel mixes with regular diesel. Once you are happy with the outcome, then you can increase this to up to 100% if required.”

The compact Biobot 20 produces 20 liters (a little over 5 gallons) of biodiesel per batch for use in diesel vehicles without any modifications. According to Biobot’s literature, “Chemicals are added in a safe, closed method, avoiding unnecessary tipping or pouring.” The company also offers larger units that produce more biodiesel per batch.

Bolton explains that it typically costs about 22 pence per liter (roughly $1.29 per gallon) to make biodiesel using the device. Though there are some variables involved, that price certainly beats the current price of gasoline.

Every new Biobot processor sold is offered with a free training session. Unfortunately for those outside of the U.K., the training center is near London’s Heathrow Airport. However, Biobot seems committed to providing full training and assistance to all of their customers in some way, shape or form. They are currently looking for international dealers who could sell the processors and provide training to customers in other parts of the world, including the U.S. They have, however, shipped their processors around the world and can arrange shipments to U.S. customers.

The video below provides an introduction to the process of making biodiesel at home using the Biobot 20.

Springboard Biodiesel’s processors start at $7,350. Prices for Biobot’s range of biodiesel processors start at £1,000, or about $1,525. Federal Tax credits are available on biodiesel processors that produce fuel for vehicles.

Processing biofuel is still a somewhat labor-intensive process, making these products most attractive for those who both already own a diesel vehicle and are committed to making their own biodiesel. Inhabitat sums up the benefits of home biodiesel production (aside from the potential cost benefit) best: “Close to carbon-neutral, biodiesel is a great way to become independent of the fossil fuel industry and take transportation into your own hands.”

Sustainable America supports the diversification of U.S. fuel stocks. While biodiesel produced from cooking oil at home may be a sort of niche that might not become widely adapted, all sorts of fascinating things run on biofuels derived from cooking oil, including Willie Nelson’s tour bus and the Royal Train that carries the British Royal Family on long journeys around the United Kingdom. (We’re sure that is where the similarities between Willie Nelson’s tour bus and Her Majesty’s train end.)

Keep in mind that even though biofuel production is a fairly straightforward process, there are chemicals involved that can be hazardous. If you decide to take up at home biofuel production, please take all necessary care and precautions, and follow all manufacturer’s instructions.

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By the Numbers

Currently 50 million households suffer from food insecurity, meaning that family members cannot always meet their basic food needs.

10 million people a year could be fed through the recovery of just one-fifth of food waste.

Only 2% of food waste is composted or otherwise recycled—62% of paper is recycled.

Consumers throw out about 40% of the fresh and frozen fish they buy.

The U.S. produced 208 pounds of meat per person in 2009—60% more than Europe.

Low income commuters spend a much higher proportion of their wages on gas—8.6% versus 2.1% at $4 per gallon.

Food prices rose 35-40 percentage points between 2002–2008.

Americans consume 25% of the world’s produced oil, but our nation holds less than 3% of the world’s proven oil reserves.

The International Energy Agency says greenhouse gas emissions rose 3.2% last year, with a 9.3% increase in China offsetting declines in the US and EU.