Monday, March 19, 2012

The Dangers of Homebrewing UCO Biodiesel in a Subidvision

With fuel prices going up and the gospel of converting various "feedstock" into bio-diesel in you backyard (or someone else's) may look like a smart alternative to paying through the nose every time you fill up your tank with ordinary diesel.

It's not.  In fact, it may be stupid if you don't know what you are doing and if you are doing it in your own backyard (or right smack in a residential area). 

One of the dangerous substances used in the production of UCO biodiesel is Methoxide.
Sodium methoxide is the true ingredient that reacts with the vegetable oil to make biodiesel (methyl esters).  
Sodium methoxide is an extremely caustic base. The vapors that the mixing process emits, as well as the liquid itself, are extremely toxic. Be absolutely certain to wear heavy duty synthetic rubber gloves, eye protection and an approved respirator.
What is Sodium Methoxide
Sodium methoxide is prepared by carefully treating methanol with sodium:
2 Na + 2 CH3OH → 2 CH3ONa + H2 
The reaction is so exothermic that ignition is possible.
Sodium Methoxide is not only dangerous, it can ruin your vehicle's engine too.

Moreover, methoxide is highly volatile and the resulting sodium methoxide is highly toxic. During the process of creating sodium methoxide, lots of hydrogen and heat are used increasing the dangers involved in the process. The high toxicity levels of sodium methoxide also make it very hazardous catalyst to be used in biodiesel productions. 
What the chemical does is kill human nerve cells before any pain can be felt. When exposure to methoxide occurs, it is best to rinse the affected areas with water and ask for medical treatment immediately. 
Another major disadvantage of using sodium methoxide in biodiesel production is the fact that the compound needs to be purified from the biodiesel. Not doing so can cause a lot of problems for the end consumers. 
First off, unwashed biodiesel will never meet the standards of ASTM (American Society of Testing and Materials). 
Second, when the biodiesel left unwashed some alcohol, sodium hydroxide, and soap may remain in the fuel itself. These elements can easily cause biological growth when the fuel degrades which can ruin the engine or its parts. 
Another reason why unwashed biodiesel is not advisable is that having unreacted methanol in the biodiesel fuel can result in fire or explosion aside from causing corrosion to some of the engine's parts. In particular, unfiltered sodium methoxide might also cause corrosion of other engine components.
 So, if you are buying bio-diesel from an unlicensed home brewer, it's your risk.


Ben Kritz said...

Yikes. The other side of "being green".

Paul Farol said...

The by-product of converting UCO into diesel is a milky liquid called "wash" and this wash contains some of the sodium methoxide -- which I suppose is bad for any body of water that it goes into.

So, while UCO diesel is claimed to help prevent air pollution, it can actually cause water pollution.

Moreover, there's a bit of an attempt to mislead people that just because they are using a 5 percent or 10 percent blend of UCO Diesel, they are helping significantly reduce Green House gases -- they ought to think that 90 to 95 percent of what they use is contributing to Greehouse gas emissions.

It's like thinking you can lose weight by drinking Coke Zero while wolfing down a big ass steak and a small mountain of mashed potatoes.

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