Biodiesel Review published by Utah Biodiesel Supply
Dec 2010
Let The Brewing Season Begin! 
Fuel prices are skyrocketing! We saw diesel here in Utah at $3.79/gallon and have had some customers tell us they're seeing over $4/gallon! As fuel prices continue to go through the roof, there's no time like now to get back into brewing Biodiesel and go full steam ahead!

To get you started, we have another exciting issue of Biodiesel Review hot off the press! From an article on using your hand to better understand the chemistry of Biodiesel to our exciting new Biodiesel Updates series, we're ready to rock & roll! So, with that, let the fun begin!
In This Issue
Biodiesel Chemistry With Your Hands
Biodiesel Updates
New Products At Utah Biodiesel Supply
Upcoming Biodiesel Events
Biodiesel Chemistry - With Your Hands! 

-by Graydon Blair, Utah Biodiesel Supply

I have a really easy way to remember how Biodiesel is made simply by using your hands and a little imagination. With this lesson, I cover the basic transesterification reaction (base reaction), esterification (acid reaction), and deal with soap & glycerin production.


If you've ever called in and had a chemistry related question, you may have heard me use this analogy. I like it because it's simple, to the point, and is easy to remember. While it may not be 100% correct for the true chemists out there, it gets the point across well enough for understanding how Biodiesel is produced, what can hinder the reaction, and why we do crazy things like titrate and measure soap levels along the way. So, here we go!


Take your left hand and make the number 3 (3 fingers up, thumb & pinky down). In nature, organic oils at a molecular level look something like your hand. They each have three fatty acids (represented by your fingers sticking up) and a glycerin backbone (the palm of your hand). We call this molecule a Tri-glyceride (tri for 3 fatty acids; glyceride, being the combination of the glycerin/fatty acids together).


The Chemical Reaction 

To make Biodiesel, we use a catalyst such as Sodium Hydroxide (NaOH, Lye), or Potassium Hydroxide (KOH, Caustic Potash). We also use Methanol as well. The combination of a single Fatty Acid Chain to a methanol molecule is what we call Biodiesel (or a fatty acid methyl/ethyl ester).


In relation to your hand, how the reaction works is that the catalyst (NaOH or KOH) acts as a cutting device between your palm and your fingers. It makes a nice, clean cut at the base of the finger and the methanol attaches to the finger where the cut was made creating a Biodiesel molecule. After all 3 fingers are detached from the hand, the hand becomes a single glycerin molecule.


So, one single tri-glyceride when fully reacted with the methanol & catalyst, creates 3 Biodiesel molecules and one glycerin molecule. The Biodiesel is lighter (less dense) than the glycerin so after the reaction has occured, the heavier glycerin molecules settle to the bottom.


In theory, when Biodiesel is made, each tri-glyceride (3 fingered hand) reacts with the catalyst to create Biodiesel and glycerin. Of course, that's in a perfect world.


The Free Fatty Acid Problem

As organic oils are used up in deep fryers and also as they age, the triglycerides tend to break down and the fatty acids break off and the oil breaks down.


A good way to think of this occurring with the hand example is by imagining that rust starts to occur where some of the fingers are attached to your palm. Eventually, the fingers "rust away" and detach from the palm completely creating what we call free fatty acids (acids that aren't bound to anything).


When the catalyst comes in to make a clean cut on the other fingers still attached, the fingers (free fatty acids) with the rust on the end attack the catalyst before it can even get to your hand. These rusted fingers begin bonding to the catalyst and create soap. The catalyst, being neutralized by the free fatty acids can't properly cut the still-attached fingers.  


To ensure that we can still make Biodiesel from the fingers still attached to the palm, we add enough extra catalyst so that the there's still some left over after the free fatty acids have attacked and neutralized a portion of the catalyst.


Titrating Oil For Biodiesel

To find out how much extra catalyst is necessary to fully neutralize all the free fatty acids into soap and still have enough left over to make Biodiesel with, we perform a titration on the oil.  


In reality, all we're doing oil is counting how many fingers are floating in the oil that aren't attached to hands. We then take that number and add it to how much catalyst is needed to cut the rest of the fingers still attached to hands. When the Biodiesel is made, the extra catalyst added reacts with the floating rusted fingers (free fatty acids) converting them into soap. Then, the left-over catalyst cuts the remaining fingers away from the hands and they are then free to bond to the methanol creating Biodiesel. 

Why We Titrate Vegetable Oil (WVO) For Biodiesel - Utah Biodiesel Supply
Click the video above to see the hand example illustrated
Click the video above to see an actual titration performed
Click the video above to see an actual titration performed

How Sulfuric Acid Works On Waste Vegetable Oil  

Sulfuric Acid can be used on oil that titrates really high to effectively lower it's titration. Here's how it works in relation to our hand example. Imagine that the Sulfuric Acid is sand paper. It attacks the rusty fingers that have broken away from the hand and begins to sand down the rusty ends.


In addition to having Sulfuric Acid, methanol is also added to the oil at the same time. As the acid is able to sand down the rust from each  finger, methanol comes in and attaches to the fingers to create Biodiesel. Unfortunately, some of the fingers are rusted so badly that the acid sand paper isn't able to fully clean the rust off...those will still get reacted into soap. However, the acid is able to clean up a pretty large number of the rusted fingers thereby allowing them to react into Biodiesel.


So, as the number of fingers left floating in the oil is reduced, the titration level gets reduced. After the acid has done it's job, the oil is retitrated and the catalyst and more methanol get added to react the fingers still attached to the hands into Biodiesel.


Click here to learn the actual method for using Sulfuric Acid when making Biodiesel.

Click Here to learn the actual method for titrating 

Biodiesel Updates!
Keep up with all the news in Biodiesel
with our cool, new Biodiesel Updates Videos! 

We've started a cool, new series on our YouTube channel called Biodiesel Updates. With how involved we are in the small scale industry, we've created this series to keep you up to date with what's happening in the Biodiesel industry as well as how it relates to the cost of fuel, the cost of waste vegetable oil on the open market (hint: WVO is selling for over $3/gallon as of 3/2/2011), and other market forces. We also will be featuring any new products we have available as well as cool success stories from our customers.

Below are our first two segments. Click on each one to get a feel for how we'll be doing these. If you have an idea of what you'd like included in them, shoot us an email & we'll add it to the list.

Biodiesel Update 2/1/2011
Biodiesel Update 2/1/2011
Biodiesel Update - 2/18/2010 - Utah Biodiesel Supply
Biodiesel Update - 2/18/2010

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We post cool Biodiesel updates, new products, events, cool diesel vehicles, and more on a regular basis!

New Products At Utah Biodiesel Supply
Check out the latest crop of cool, new products recently released!

1000 mL Separatory Funnel 

1000 mL Separatory Funnel
This cool, little device is awesome! It's the ultimate tool for separating mini batches with! Just mix up a mini batch of Biodiesel, dump it in the top, and watch as the glycerin settles to the bottom!

With a stopcock on the bottom, you can easily remove the glycerin from the mix without disturbing the Biodiesel above it. Plus, after you've pulled the glycerin out, you can add water to the mix to do a miniature water wash!

It will hold up to 1600 mL of liquid, so 1 liter mini batches work great in it! It's available as a deluxe kit with a stand and ring or individually itself.

Click Here to Learn More! 

2 liter, 3 liter, and 4 liter Glass Beakers 

2,000 mL, 3,000 mL, 

We're pleased to introduce the addition of large glass beakers to our line up! These beakers are made from laboratory grade glass and are great for making mini batches, testing mini batches, making small batches of soap, testing different oils, or several other tasks that require larger than normal glass beakers.

Click Here To Learn More About The Beakers! 

Inline-Water Strainer 

Inline Water Strainer   

Check out these cool inline water filters! Attach them to a hose spigot on one end and the garden hose on the other and you instantly have an inline water strainer that strains water down to 149 micron keeping dirt & debris out of your Biodiesel washing misting head and out of your Biodiesel as well! The removable filter is made from a stainless steel mesh and is 100% cleanable. If you'd like to keep your misters from getting plugged, then stop on by and pick one up!

Click Here To Learn More About The Strainers!

Upcoming Biodiesel Events
Biodiesel Events

Sustainable Biodiesel Summit - March 5, 2011 -

Pittsboro, North Carolina

This conference, which occurs yearly, is all about helping to facility the adoption of sustainable biodiesel practices in the the biodiesel industry. It's put on by The Abundance Foundation and is an incredible conference! Even Dr. Jon Van Gerpen is speaking!
Check out the complete schedule by clicking here
Register by clicking here!

Biodiesel Intensive Workshop - March 2, 3, & 4, 2011 -

Pittsboro, North Carolina

This 3 day intensive workshop will include some of the absolute best biodiesel education available all crammed into a special 3 day comprehensive workshop. It will be taught by leaders in the field and will include topics on everything from lab safety to cutting edge work on enzymatic biodiesel production.

Check out the complete schedule by clicking here
Registration for this workshop also includes registration for the Sustainable Biodiesel Summit and entrance into the Mardi Gras Carnival. Come and join the fun and learn from the pro's!

Register by clicking here!

Thanks for being a part of the Biodiesel Review family! We hope you enjoyed this issue.

Do you have a topic you'd like to see covered in future issues? We're always looking for cool topics to cover here so send in your idea! Send it to with the subject line NEWSLETTER SUGGESTION.




Graydon Blair
Utah Biodiesel Supply
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