DIY Emergency Fuel — Bucket Biodiesel

If a disaster hits, and you run out of diesel for your truck or generator or heating oil for your home, you can make your own biodiesel out of a wide variety of oils —both vegetable and animal. Olive oil, corn oil, lard, peanut oil, and even recycled fry oil from restaurants all work, but new liquid oil will produce biodiesel with the fewest number of steps.

To create biodiesel in the easiest way, use 1 gallon of new vegetable oil (canola oil, corn oil, and soybean oil are the best), 14 grams (1/2 ounce) of lye in the form of sodium hydroxide (available as drain cleaner), and 800 milliliters (27 ounces) of methanol (methyl alcohol is commonly available as a fuel treatment). Make sure the label says methanol, as isopropyl alcohol won’t work.

While wearing gloves, goggles, and a dust mask, carefully pour the methanol and sodium hydroxide into a large glass jar. Stir the jar about 2 minutes, or until the sodium hydroxide has completely dissolved. Do this step outside, as the vapors are toxic. Use this solution within an hour, as it has a very small window of activity.


Warm your oil in a cooking pot on a stove or heater until it is roughly 100 degrees, then pour the oil into a plastic or glass container with a tight fitting lid. Add the methanol and lye mixture very carefully and seal the container.

Shake or roll the container gently for 20-30 minutes, then allow it to sit for 2 days in a warm spot. During this time, the fluids will separate. The bottom layer will be glycerin, and the top layer will be your biodiesel. Carefully pour the biodiesel off into a fuel jug, leaving behind a tiny bit of biodiesel and the glycerin.

Important Safety Precautions
Always wear thick rubber gloves, safety glasses and a dust mask when handling the lye, methanol, and the solution that they create. All of these substances are very harmful if they touch your skin or eyes, or are inhaled or swallowed. Methanol is readily absorbed through the skin and quite toxic. Drinking just a small amount would be fatal. Lye is extremely caustic, producing severe chemical burns on exposed skin (like that scene in Fight Club). Finally, methoxide (the substance produced from lye and methanol) is an extremely toxic nerve agent.

Ever made your own fuel? After reading that last paragraph, are you up for giving it a try? Leave us your thoughts in the comments.

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