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Do It Yourself Guide to Biodiesel: Your Alternative Fuel Solution for Saving Money, Reducing Oil Dependency, and Helping the Planet Paperback – October 28, 2007
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Purcella approaches biodiesel as an accessible and worthwhile way to fulfil both of those qualifications since you can make it for about $1 a gallon and since it's not a petroleum-based product, it's friendly for the environment when burned and is not toxic to Mother Earth if spilled. So let's get started!
Purcella begins by laying out his own lengthy search for information on biodiesel production and relates that he had a heck of a time finding good, factual knowledge on the subject despite trolling all manner of websites, blogs and even more traditional media outlets. Out of this frustration was born an idea to write a DIY book that has all the necessary pieces of the puzzle to enable any would-be biodiesel producer to make up a batch without fear of error or danger. That biodiesel production can be a bit dangerous and is not for those who don't follow checklists is worth noting before you dive in and start mixing up volatile chemicals in your broom closet at home!
The style of the book is straight-forward and easy to digest. Purcella lays out the biodiesel production process in a step-by-step format with sidebars to highlight areas of special interest, such as dangerous chemicals, definitions for technical terms, and process steps that require special attention to ensure the reaction that makes waste oil into biodiesel succeeds.
There is a good primer on how to gather waste vegetable oil from your local fast food vendors with Chinese restaurants being a favored place to harvest feed stock for your biodiesel plant. That's because Chinese restaurants tend to turn over their oil more often to ensure better quality food and what's good for the customer is good for the biodieseler: cleaner oil means a better reaction with less goop to deal with and ends up making the fuel cleaner, more stable and easier to make. There is some initial expense in setting up the arrangements necessary to gather oil, but with a little luck and an eye for salvageable barrels, the cost could be very low.
Purcella recommends checking the waste vegetable oil by using a somewhat complex chemical reaction to make sure that the fuel stock you are gathering is even worth trying to convert into biodiesel. It is possible that the oil has been overused and will not make a high enough grade of biodiesel to be used in engines. That doesn't mean you can't use it in waste oil heaters or the like, but there's no need to go through the whole conversion process to use the oil for simple space heating.
The plant one needs to make fuel from WVO (that's waste vegetable oil) can be a bit expensive, especially if one wants to make large enough batches to reap the benefits of economy of scale. At least 2 of the chemicals used in the reaction, methanol and caustic lye, are very dangerous and even life-threatening if improperly handled/used, so Purcella takes extra care to make sure there's absolutely no question that safety is paramount when adding them to the reaction in the proper quantities and in the right amounts. This is a very important and well-covered area in the DIY Guide to Biodiesel that should be carefully noted to ensure the life and limbs of the biodeiseler remain healthy and whole.
There are a number of options for making a biodeisel plant and Purcella offers his own version as a nice way for a fairly well-off DIYer to make a batch with no fuss and less muss. Not very DIy, actually, and a bit of a shill for his business, but to his credit, Purcella also discusses other companies that make competitive models and even offers honest-to-goodness instructions on how to build your own. Again, plenty of caveats to have an electrician hook up the circuits and make sure the sparky parts don't end up providing any extra excitement or shocking results.
I found the process of turning WVO into good quality biodiesel to be quite complex and fraught with areas that could cause the whole batch to turn into "goop." There's filtering, heating, mixing chemicals, reacting, washing, drying, and at each step a small miscalculation or error in process would end in nothing more than a large mass of soapy oil muck.
One of the by-products of the process is glycerin, which Purcella says can be used to keep the dust down on dirt roads or in sports arenas without fear of harming the environment. The normal compounds used to bind the dirt into a dust-free coating are very toxic to flora and fauna and can cause great harm to aquatic life. As a sideline to help reduce the costs of biodiesel production, the glycerin dust reduction business seems like an easy and eco-friendly way to do good while doing well.
The book has a comprehensive list of resources for the potential biodieseler with lots of websites and forums. Also included is a fairly good glossary containing definitions of some of the more esoteric terms used when discussing the conversion process and materials used. As an added bonus, there are also short sections on using biodiesel in colder climates and what kind of fuel hoses and fittings are necessary to withstand biodiesel's chemical attack on normal rubber and PVC used in diesel fuel systems.
With the exception of some grainy and not-so-clear photographs, Gary Purcella's Do It Yourself Guide to Biodiesel is a good quality effort at helping people learn the ins and outs of the entire biodiesel process from waste oil to EPA-approved engine fuel. At $15.95 the price is within reach of almost any budget and the savings that will come in the form of successful batches of biodiesel right out of the chute will pay for the book many times over. If that price is too rich, it is available right now at Amazon.com for $10.85 or if you are lucky you might find one at your local library or cleantech coop. You can also visit Purcella's website, [...] and learn more about his on-going efforts to help convert the diesel world to a new and friendlier fuel with the additional aim of reducing American dependence on overseas petroleum-based fuel.