8 Goes Green

Home Chemists Make Biodiesel from Restaurant Grease

Posted: Jul 8, 2011 10:53 AM by Tony Ullrich
Updated: Jul 30, 2011 1:19 PM

Rating: 5.0 (1 vote)

COLUMBIA - With regular unleaded gasoline hovering around $3.40 a gallon and diesel prices around $4.00 a gallon, some local people are concocting their own fuel for trucks using kitchen appliances and restaurant waste.

KOMU talked with individuals in central Missouri who make their own biodiesel. But, none of the home chemists returned our calls for an on-camera interview. Steve Fugate, an Iowa biodiesel maker, spoke to us via Skype about his process of making his own biodiesel on his farm in rural Johnson County.

"It's a bit of work but compared to going and getting a job some place to pay for filling my truck, to me, it's a reasonable economy," said Fugate. (Click here for video from the interview with Fugate)

A common biodiesel recipe is easy to find on the Web. It usually calls for vegetable oil, methanol and household lye. Typically, people use mixing containers and a blender to make a batch. But, that can be dangerous.

"Most blenders you can see the sparks in them and methanol and sparks don't mix at all," he said.

Some methods of making biodiesel don't require electricity. With the Dr. Pepper style, you can mix together vegetable oil, methanol and potassium hydroxide in a 1-liter Dr. Pepper bottle and use your hands to shake it up.

University of Missouri agricultural engineers said the average person can make biodiesel and save about 35 cents on each gallon. But if you make your own biofuel, you must know safety and follow federal and state laws, those ag engineers said. The government doesn't allow you to sell it either.

The 63 Diner is one Columbia restaurant that deep fat fries chicken, french fries and other appetizers on a regular basis. About every ten days, the diner buys nearly 30 pounds of grease and recycles it twice daily. The owner said the cleaning process helps the food to keep its original flavor. That way, fries won't taste like fish.

When the diner's grease is no longer usable, employees take it out to a dumpster behind the restaurant. But, that doesn't mean the old grease is done for. The owner saves it so some regular diner customers can pick it up for making biodiesel. Otherwise, the owner said she would pay someone to haul the used grease away.

"It's saving us money by them (home-based biodiesel makers) coming and getting it even if we don't get paid for it," said Julie Cook, 63 Diner owner.

Sometimes, it depends on where you live if restaurants charge to take leftover grease. Fugate said he doesn't pay restaurants for grease; instead he does regular business with them. In other states, home biodiesel makers told us some restaurants charge by the quantity as the grease still has value after it leaves the kitchen.

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