Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Backyard Biodiesel Basics Class - May 14, 2008 - Palmer

backyard biodieselWednesday May 14, 2008 - 7pm

FREE at the APU Kellogg Campus, Spring Creek Farm, Palmer

Please join us for an evening lecture and demonstration. We will cover both biodiesel brewing and straight-vegetable-oil conversions. Seating is limited, so arrive early to guarantee your spot.

Backyard Biodiesel Basics is the first in a series of biodiesel and vegoil events and classes this summer. See the events page at for more information.

This seminar is based on the biodiesel program offered at the Bioneers conference. Those folks who attended the session at Bioneers are encouraged to sign-up for the second class in this series, offered June 14th, where participants will be making their own batches of biodiesel.

Spring Creek Farm is located at 6404 N. Lossing Rd in Palmer, Alaska. From Anchorage take the Glenn Hwy past Palmer and turn LEFT on Farm Loop Road, after few driveways turn RIGHT at the Spring Creek Farm sign onto Lossing Road. Continue to the white farm buildings on your right.

Sponsored by Arctic Vegwerks and the Alaska Biodiesel and SVO Network, in cooperation with Alaska Pacific University.

Call Will Taygan at 907-688-5288 for more information.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Earth Day biodiesel and SVO on AK radio. logoAK radio ran a nice 5 minute segment on Alaskans burning vegoil and biodiesel during their Earth Day program. You can download the entire 04/19/2008 program from the archives at

Here's the summary for the show:
April 22nd is Earth Day, and on this week's AK, we'll pay tribute to the planet. We'll learn about sustainable agriculture, and visit a hotel that runs on the same stuff you use to cook your French fries. Plus, recycling old Crocs, and figuring out which plastic bottles are safe, and which ones might land you in hot water. It's all on AK from the Alaska Public Radio Network.
If you're looking for just the biodiesel segment, a low-quality (32k mp3) version is available here.

Veg On!

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Book Review: Home Brew Biodiesel - a fabulous DIY manual.

Home Brew BiodieselB100supply has put out Home Brew Biodiesel, a unique and extremely helpful guide to brewing your own biodiesel. It reads a lot like a lab manual or a build-it-yourself guide: lots of pictures, lots of detail, lists of tools and supplies needed to build and operate a water-heater based biodiesel setup.

The Appleseed processor plans, wash tank plans, misting set-ups, overflow systems, basic electric control panels and more fill the first half of the guide. The second half provides step-by-step instructions to operating your new processor, and the appendices cover quality testing procedures, a few intermediate-level processing methods and waste stream management techniques.

Much of this information is free on the internet, but B100supply has done a wonderful job of wading through the crap to bring you the gems.

Most DIY biodiesel books spend a whole lot of time telling personal stories and explaining why petroleum is bad and how biodiesel is going to save the world and our pocketbook. Home Brew Biodiesel skips all the fluff and tells you how to build a processor, make your fuel, and test it for quality.

It's remarkable that the book not only covers collecting and testing oil, but goes into such processing details as how long to heat, how long to mix, and how to test if your batch is done. With the wide range of opinions on the internet, it's nice to have an authoritative guide to start you on your way.

This book does not go into acid-base reactions or methanol recovery, but even advanced brewers will find some of the testing techniques, waste stream treatments and wiring setups interesting.

Unfortunately for Alaskans, B100supply usually ships by UPS, which makes even little parts quite expensive. But they do offer their Home Brew Biodiesel book through cafepress, where the shipping is a reasonable five bucks.

It's definitely the best guide I've read for actually building a processor.

Veg On!

Biofuels [kind of] Blamed in Food Crisis

The Anchorage Daily News ran a New York Times article at the top of the Nation and World section today that the ADN retitled "Biofuels blamed in food crisis."

Other than the inflammatory title, the article itself is pretty good. It admits that biofuels - especially corn-based ethanol - does have an impact, but that it is "relatively small and that energy costs and soaring demand for meat in developing countries have had a bigger impact."

The article goes on to report that "grocery prices in the United States increased about 5 percent over the last year."

A decade ago we were lamenting that family farms were failing because of low crop prices. The soybean growers had a market for their meal, but the oil was terribly undervalued. They went ahead and formed the National Biodiesel Board to create a market for their soybean oil. It looks like they succeeded.

That being said, it's easy to take a good idea and implement it poorly. The giant Three Gorges Dam in China is a terrible example of hydropower. Altamont Pass in California was built in the middle of a raptor migration route, giving a wind power a bird-killing reputation that has been hard for it to shed.

There's no way we can grow ourselves out of our fossil fuel addiction. Biofuels, however, can be a sustainable part of our future energy mix.

Capturing waste fryer oil and oil from discarded fish carcasses could provide over 13 million gallons of biodiesel in Alaska every year. Combine this with the Canola production potential of the old barley farms in Delta, and we will have a significant impact on our local energy needs - sustainably - and without completing with global food supplies.

P.S. If you want more insight on the food vs. fuel arguments check out Clayton's post over at

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Dr. Diesel and Peanut Oil - Myth or Legend?

Ah yes, Rudolph Diesel's 1893 compression-ignition "diesel" engine was invented to run on peanut oil, so it's okay to burn old fryer grease in our diesels, right?

I've seen this peanut oil story published in books and spread widely across the internet. Unfortunately, the real history isn't as clear as all that.

Gerhard Knothe, one of the USDA's top biodiesel researchers, found passages in "Chemical Abstracts" 6:1984(1912) and 7:1605(1913) in which Dr. Diesel writes:
at the Paris exhibition in 1900 there was shown by the Otto Company a small diesel engine, which, at the request of the French government, ran on Arachide (earth-nut or pea-nut) oil, and worked so smoothly that only very few people were aware of it. The engine was constructed for using mineral oil and was then worked on vegetable oil without any alterations being made.
So yes, a early unmodified diesel engine did run on peanut oil, but it wasn't Dr. Diesel's first engine.

Veg On!