Bank in the Tank – Biodiesel

Bank in the Tank – Biodiesel

It’s almost an impossible task being a green business; some might even say ‘green business’ is an oxymoron. We Greenies are all asking the same question: how do we succeed in capitalistic growth alongside sustainability, conservation, and preservation? Well, we will have to get smarter about it, and in this case, we will have to get our hands oily.

SMA thinks it’s a good idea to start putting bank in our tank, green our fleet, and shrink the stink, because, as they say, dinosaur diesel is going extinct. Yes, after years of procrastination, speculation, zero funds, and lack of product confidence, we are going to pull the trigger on greening our fleet. Why? Well, a lot of reasons, but mainly because we prefer not to be on the I-don’t-give-a-crap list Captain Paul Watson.

Being a green business means coexisting within environmental regulations, preventing pollution, conserving energy, reducing waste, controlling chemicals and hazardous materials, tracking our resource use, and in our spare time, continuing to educate our employees, customers, neighbors, and colleagues. From what we can tell, Biodiesel can help us continue carrying this green tune (at least in the short-term, until zero-emission cars and trucks powered by renewables become widely available). The plan is we’re going to build or get our hands on our own biodiesel reactor . We have already imagined ourselves driving to jobs, in green caravan, smelling like deep-fried-something. We are looking forward to feeling freedom, because although some of our engines may be labeled ‘Tier 2’ or worse by California’s Air and Resource Board (CARB), when we run on them on Biodiesel, we will no longer be perseverating over total fleet displacement, smoke opacity, PM’s (Particulate Matter), NOX (Nitrogen Oxides), and other noxious greenhouse gas emissions. At last, we will be free of the bludgeoning, monthly withdrawal from our petroleum vendor. And it’s going to be a feeling of accomplishment, that we did do something we could do, when it was time to do it.

Did we decide to home-brew because we reached some critical informational mass?  Did we wake up one morning, soaked in despair and anxiety, desperate to save some part of our son’s future? Was it the punishing aggravation from attempting to acquire our fleets’ equipment identification numbers EINs? Maybe the final straw was the dread of looming EPA-regulated smog inspections, penalties, and forced retrofits?

No, unfortunately SMA doesn’t do dignified, eco-philosophical motives for change, at least not in our current hierarchy-of-needs.  Let’s face it, it’s pretty hard to step off of the food chain. Who has time to implement policy change during this economy? We know that the switch to running Biodiesel is going to cost us. There has to be research, deliberation, capital, time, and finally, installation, all to be planned for.

What was it, then? Our company uses an annual average of 3,703 GAL of diesel fuel, and that is expected to increase, as we continue to grow. Based on the average price of Petroleum diesel #2 fuel, in 2011 we spent somewhere in the neighborhood of $24,000.00, for the year.  Now, if SMA could ideally get its fuel costs down to say around $1.00/gallon by home-brewing, we could potentially save $18,293.00.   And even better, if the feedstock we get a hold of is recycled? Well how about that eco-costs value ratio?


There are at least three ways to run a diesel engine on vegetable oil Journey To Forever:

  1. Mix it with Petroleum Diesel #2 fuel (B20 is 20% Biodiesel with 80% Petroleum Diesel #2)
  2. Use the oil just as it is — usually called SVO fuel (straight vegetable oil)
  3. Convert it to Biodiesel (B100 is 100% converted vegetable oil)

The main components of converted (home-brewed) Biodiesel are: 1) Methanol, and it must be pure. 2) A catalyst can either be lye, potassium hydroxide (KOH), or caustic soda, sodium hydroxide (NaOH). 3) Feedstock (best oils to use are rapeseed or canola oil, corn oil, soy oil, or sunflower oil; however, the greenest would be recycled oil).


SMA had misgivings about Biodiesel and we know others joined us in worrying about dangerous chemicals used in the process of conversion or the final product somehow harming our engines. But consistently over time we have heard Biodiesel is less toxic than Petroleum Diesel #2 and biodegrades as fast as dextrose. Not only does Biodiesel exhaust have a less harmful impact on human health than Petroleum Diesel #2 fuel, its emissions have decreased levels of PAH (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons) and nitrited PAH compounds, which have been identified as potential cancer-causing agents. Actually Biodiesel has a flash point of over 257F (125 C), making it safer to store and handle than its petroleum counterpart. Canadian BioEnergy Corporation


Disclaimer: Unless GREET or Mobile Source Emission Factor models can calculate cradle to grave, or rather, ‘well-to-wheels,’ actual cost of particular diesel fuels, running in particular makes of engines, conclusions will remain skewed, only giving us an apples to oranges comparisons (Evaluating energy and emissions effects of vehicle/fuel systems, and arriving at real values, is beyond the scope of this blog). However, what we do know is that a retrofit for an SVO burner, including required washing processor, runs anywhere from $10,000.00, if we build it ourselves, to $25,000.00 or higher, for the top shelf variety.

If we want to purchase B100 from a filling station, current prices match or exceed Petroleum Diesel #2’s unreal cost. At Biofuels Oasis, in Berkeley or San Anselmo, CA, today’s price for what they like to call ‘B99.9’ is $4.69 /GAL. They also offer bulk discounts for purchases of 250 GAL or more. At Yokayo Biofuels, in Eureka, CA, the price for B100 is $4.45 /GAL. If we were to request delivery, they would add .15 /GAL.

A quick shop around the web reveals a wide range of new and used Biodiesel accessories for sale. Grainger sells storage containers from 5 GAL plastic carboys with handle and spout for $160.75 to 450 GAL base fuel tanks for $7,500.00. We found a 275 GAL used Polyethylene tote with cage going for $75.00, where you ‘save green on anything that moves.’

Home-brewing set up costs widely vary depending on whether you decide to buy or build your own processor. An adequate processing system can be set up, using recycled materials, for as low as $100.00 (Maria Alovert, Appleseed Biodiesel Processor inventor and ‘Biodiesel: Home Brew Guide’ author); Journey to Forever). Then calculate in your time: 4 HRS/week for processing. However, if you didn’t take the time to already attend one of Alovert’s invigorating Biodiesel presentations when she was offering them, and you do have a little start-up capital to throw at this, then there are processors that will do everything for you: The BioPro190EX Biodiesel Processor at is a complete automated processor. Add oil, catalyst, methanol and sulfuric acid, hit the big green button and walk away! No transferring of oil from one place to another. No adjusting levers and valves to make sure things are added just right. You don’t even have to transfer the processed Biodiesel to a wash tank, because it does the washing right in the unit! It’ll even draw the water it needs for washing, right from a standing water source. This wonderful innovation only costs $13,990.00. (In an ideal world, even if we bought the 450 GAL base fuel tank to store in, plus this shiny new reactor, we’d still be ahead $3,345.00 at the end of the year. Obviously, we will save thousands by building a reactor ourselves.)

We have come to understand our world’s petroleum party is over (Well-To-Wheels GREET Model actual cost of ‘dinosaur’ Diesel #2), and like a lot of other businesses, we’re left wondering about the fate of industrial society. Beleaguered by mazes of mutually exclusive, online procedures (CARB), we have certified our on-road, off-road, and portable equipment engines. But faced with all this and rising costs, SMA now believes we better just don lab coats and fire up our Bunsen burners (titration) in order to keep rolling down the road to our jobs. It’s that, or persevere through more and more scarcity, which will ultimately generate a stronger desire for pro-green-action. And the Biofuels industry is only one of many new frontiers we can pioneer: imagine social and scientific innovators mimicking Nature’s operating instructions to serve human ends, without harming the web of life; a Bioneer can come from any walk of life or discipline, and peer deep into the heart of living systems to understand how Nature operates—kinship, cooperation, diversity, symbiosis and cycles of continuous creation, absent of waste, incorporating it into any frontier, having a much better chance at expecting it to last.

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