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Backyard Biodiesel

Off Grid Travel: Make Your Own Biodiesel    

Shannon Brown is a native islander in the sub-tropics on the Gulf of Mexico where home built swamp buggies and airboats are as plentiful as palm trees and mosquitoes. What makes Brown stand out from his rough and tumble neighbors is his green approach. After seeing a documentary about biodiesel on television Brown said he decided to give it a try, "for the fact that anybody could make it and the fact that it’s green.” 

Shannon Brown makes homemade biodiesel.

"It’s pretty simple stuff,” noted Brown. He said first you have to, "score your oil,” which can be virgin vegetable oil or waste vegetable oil (WVO). Then lye is needed as a catalyst and also a small percentage of alcohol. Heat is added and "what’s left is esters of oil, which is a good clean burning oil,” said Brown.

The only byproduct of the process is glycerin. Which, noted brown, is an organic material that works great as a fertilizer. He has a stand of banana trees just behind his backyard laboratory that benefited from Brown’s first batches of fuel. "After the rainy season started I got 15 heads of bananas out of there,” he marveled.

 Brown said he studied up on biofuel on the Internet, then welded together two beer kegs to make his first reactor. Next he found a used Mercedes diesel for $1900.00. A car that sort of stands out among the four by four trucks littering Brown’s neighborhood. "That was my experiment car,” he explained.

All you need for a home biodiesel laboratory.

But still, "It was hard to pour that first five gallons of homemade fuel into that tank,” said Brown. 

Brown naturally thought he’d have an endless supply of waste oil from the numerous local fish eateries. And that was the case at first, before his experiment proved successful. Without meaning to, Brown set an example for other islanders who now make their own backyard biodiesel.

"They fist fight over the waste oil now,” said Brown. The exhaust from biodiesel cars often smells like french fries from the waste oil used to make the fuel. "Around here it smells like a fish fry,” quipped Brown. 

He claims his Mercedes runs better than before and gets better gas mileage on biodiesel than on regular diesel. "It picked up a little horse power,” he added. The fuel even works as a system cleaner. "I have a friend, he put some in his truck and he said it was like putting a turbo on it,” said Brown.

But perhaps the biggest selling point is the fuel’s cost. "I make it for about 40 cents a gallon (without labor),” said Brown.

"I think I set too good of an example. Now I lost my oil source,” he lamented.

But he admitted he’s found another secret source for the used vegetable oil: he’s now making his biofuel in bulk using a new processor made from a 55-gallon oil drum and a hot water heater. "I figured out it’s just as easy to make a big batch as a small batch,” he explained.          

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