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Biodiesel Safety - These chemicals are dangerous: learn how to use them.

As long as you are safety conscious you will have no health problems producing biodiesel. Biodiesel safety is very important.

Fact: once biodiesel is made it is classified as totally safe and is less toxic than table salt. There are no restrictions on storing it.

biodiesel safety picture

However, the methanol which goes into making biodiesel is very dangerous and must be treated with respect. Each of the chemicals that you will use in the production of biodiesel are in common industrial use. Each of them has a MSDS (material safety data sheet) which specifies storage, poison categories, treatment of exposure, exposure limits etc. You should read the MSDS before using them, you can google MSDS methanol and MSDS potassium hydroxide to find one from a supplier near you.

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Basic Safety Tips

Here are some basic biodiesel safety tips.

  • Do not make biodiesel or leave the chemicals where there are children... ever!
  • Always make biodiesel outside or in a well ventilated area
  • Do not store large quantities of methanol in your home. Your fire regulations probably restrict you to 5 liters but this will depend on your local fire department, avoid storing large quantities in your production area incase you have a biodiesel fire
  • Store methanol in steel containers and put an earth strap on them. This earth strap must be connected to a spike in the ground or a water pipe
  • Always wear a dust mask when working with the hydroxides. There will often be dust in the bags which can be inhaled and burn your lungs
  • Always keep the MSDS at hand in a file or folder. If you need to go to hospital take the file with you
  • A cartridge respirator will not protect you from methanol. Only a closed-circuit air supply will keep you safe. For this reason ventilate your area with a forced air extraction system, or just make it outside or in an open area
  • Always have running water at hand when mixing chemicals
  • Wear long clothes and closed shoes
  • Never, ever smoke. Biodiesel safety and smoking do not go together
  • Buy a dry powder fire extinguisher and mount it on the wall next to your plant. If you have a big facility consult your fire department who will be able to assist with fire fighting requirements.
  • Get rid of old oily rags. They can spontaneously combust. This is especially true of rags soaked in Linseed Oil which frequently burst into flames. If you wash your rags then be even more careful with them once they get oil on them as it makes the problem worse.

Biodiesel Safety When Preparing Methoxide

Methoxide is made by mixing methanol and either potassium hydroxide or sodium hydroxide. This process probably has the most impact on biodiesel safety. Here are some important safety tips.

  • Always mix in a well ventilated area, never in your home or kitchen.
  • Despite what other web sites say, never mix the chemicals in a kitchen blender. The motors on kitchen blenders produce lots of sparks which will probably set the chemicals on fire. I also know someone who managed to take the top of the blender off and get the whole batch flung into his eyes. After a visit to the hospital and some nervous hours wondering if he was blind he was discharged. It is not worth the risk!
  • biodiesel safety bad drill
  • The same applies for electric drills. Do not use them, they use brushed motors which give of plenty of sparks.
  • When methanol burns the flames are invisible, be careful.
  • Methanol fires can be put out with water. But once you make biodiesel water will make the fire worse.
  • When the methoxide is mixed an exothermic reaction happens - this means that it will give off heat and get hot.
  • Do not mix methoxide in plastic soda bottles, use glass or stainless steel. Many small plants use Plastic Carboys to mix the chemicals in. The plastic is Poly Ethylene and this is resistant to the chemicals, but if the mixture gets to hot this can be a problem.
  • The best way to mix on a small scale is to put the chemicals in a suitable container, outside, close to running water. Give the container a swirl every now and then until the hydroxide is dissolved. This can take half an hour or so. There is no need for mechanical agitation. Keep the container closed as much as possible.
  • If you spill the methoxide on yourself it will burn you without you being aware of the burn. Wash any methoxide off your skin with running water as quickly as possible.
  • When you add the methoxide to the oil make sure the oil is no hotter than 60 deg C.
  • Google methoxide MSDS, print it out and keep it in your file for an emergency.
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