The rising price of fuel, environmental concerns, and ominous signs of global climate change has many consumers looking for alternatives to petroleum. Biodiesel fuel is an accessible option for those who wish to create their own energy solution right on the farm. It is one of several biofuels that can be used to meet society’s energy needs. Ethanol, another biofuel made form corn, sugar cane, and potato, can be burned in a gasoline engine. Biodiesel is a waste vegetable oil (fryer grease). As well, several crops can be grown to produce biodiesel such as switch grass, soybeans or animal fats.

Biodiesel is a renewable diesel fuel that can be burned in any unmodified diesel engine at any concentration. B100 is 100% biodiesel and can be used in diesel engines in warmer temperatures. When ambient temperatures approach freezing, biodiesel is usually blended with petroleum diesel at 10% concentrations (B10), 20% (B20) or 40% concentrations (B40). The cost of producing biodiesel is approximately $1.25 per gallon. This comprises to cost of methanol and lye (sodium hydroxide) or potassium hydroxide which is the catalyst used to transform the waste grease and methanol to methyl esters, otherwise known as biodiesel.

There are two trends in biodiesel today. The first is industrial biodiesel, made from virgin soybean oil and funded by the soybean check-off program. This is likely the avenue through which his biofuel will become available to mainstream consumers in the coming years. The other trend is that of small-scale home and farm-made biodiesel, which is taking place in mini-refineries all around the globe. Biodiesel home brewers typically make their fuel from waste vegetable oil collected for free from restaurants that use it for deep frying. The restaurants would otherwise have to pay a fee to get the waste greased hauled away.

Biodiesel use has the following benefits:

  • Significantly lower in EPA registered emissions of carbon monoxide, soot, particulate matter, sulfur dioxide, and carcinogenic hydrocarbons
  • Smells better when it is burned (like French fries or onion rings)
  • Domestically produced energy source

Making biodiesel from used vegetable oil recycles a high-energy waste product into something useful as fuel. In addition, because the plants that make the oil used in biodiesel get their carbon from the atmosphere, burning biofuels does not contribute to global climate change linked to elevated atmospheric CO2.

Making biodiesel is fairly simple. See our attached manual, Small Scale Biodiesel Production, Wilson College for all of the details on how to make your own biodiesel fuel. This manual was written by Wilson graduate, Sarah Griffen. If you have questions concerning biodiesel, please contact: Dr. Ed Wells, Chair of Environmental Studies,

Anyone currently producing biodiesel or considering beginning a biodiesel operation is strongly encouraged to read the Best Practices Manual for Small Scale Biodiesel Production and Use.  This document contains the most up-to-date information regarding safe and responsible production practices.  The manual was co-authored by the Wilson College Biodiesel Project, Penn State University, and the PA Department of Environmental Protection.

The Wilson College Biodiesel Project graciously thanks Northeast SARE for its support for research and writing of the manual.