I went over to Mitch's house yesterday to brew biodiesel. Actually, Mitch brewed and I watched. There is a minimal amount of danger involved and I wanted to see it before accidentally doing something wrong with a semi-dangerous chemical. It really is easy enough to brew in your own garage, but messy enough that a garage is the only place i'd want to do it. I don't think I'll have my own setup any time soon. The second best thing about hobbies like this is the silly jargon you get to use. The bucket/vessel in which you mix all the ingredients together is not merely a bucket, it is a "reactor." Mitch's reactor is extra fancy in that he has an agitator/pump thingee attached to it that does the mixing for him. The carboy that you leave the fuel in, waiting for the precipitate to drop out is called a "separation chamber." The worry you experience while awaiting this part of the process to complete is called "separation anxiety."
The best thing about brewing your own fuel out of waste oil that you get for free from a local restaurant is, of course, the rebellious nature of it. Take that, oil war! I can brew the fuel I need for a week in a saturday afternoon while hanging out with my friends! I don't need your dirty petroleum . . . except for the methanol that gets used in the process. Mitch claims that his homebrew is higher quality than the biodiesel which is currently commercially available. Data seems to support this claim. Alas. Poor quality control at the biodiesel plant is gumming up fuel filters and causing customers (including the city of Berkeley) to switch back to dinosaur based fuel. Berkeley and some anarchists and peacenics will come back, but the average user doesn't want hassle getting fuel. One workaround to this problem is to replace your fuel filter frequently. Worth it for the good karma. The other is to run a tank of dinodiesel every 4 or 5 tanks to dilute glycerol in the filter. (Glycerol is the precipitate that drops out in the separation chamber. It's the byproduct of making biodiesel. Other people know it by the less geeky name, "soap.")
Biodiesel lives per gallon? Zero. Petroleum lives per gallon? Bad, says a recent Amnesty International report. The Bush administration is dismissing the report, which documents abuses at Gitmo (including the Koran story which caused riots and which Newsweek retracted, despite its being true). What do administration people say about the Amenesty report? Well, obviously it's wrong. I mean, everybody who reports having been abused is an ex-prisoner and thus is totally untrustworthy. Did you know that all the inmates at Gitmo are suspected of disliking America? Of course they would lie. It makes perfect sense to dismiss everything they say out of hand because we once thought they were guilty of a crime, even though later we let them go for a total lack of evidence. Sure, they were innocent and arrested in error, but we once thought they were guilty and that's enough evidence to completely disregard anything they say about Gitmo. In fact, it proves they were really terrorists all along and ought to be grounds for re-arresting them. Can you believe that Amnesty would take the word of a large body of political prisoners over the word of the US government? They have completely forgotten their stated mission, which is to take the word of political prisoners when they say bad things about governments that we don't like! Not us! Sheesh. And there are other countries out there that are much worse, so they should go concentrate on something else, certainly not the most powerful country in the world. It would make more sense just to ignore us. So let's just dismiss this report and go buy a Hummer. Wouldn't you rather daydream about yourself in a Hummer (you could just drive over annoying little cars in your way!) than contemplate people raped and beaten to death in US-run prisons? Just relax. We're on your side. What me worry?