My wife Julia laughs at me when we pass through the hot water heater aisle at Lowes. I ogle over the tall, proud 80-gallon electrics, like a kid a candy store. Not many folks get too excited over water heaters (be they electric, gas – new, used, or junked), but I do for a couple reasons: first, it’s in my blood; my dad, Rod Pfitzer, was a union steamfitter and my grandpa Mickelson sold and repaired water heaters as a propane salesman/Maytag man; second, the tanks are an integral part of my homebrew biodiesel operation. You see, I believe in using old water heaters to make methyl ester, what biodiesel home-brewers call “Appleseed processors.” Why, I don’t have a clue. But, I like it!
I am not some egg-headed, wanna-be-know-it-all who is out to save the world, soap-boxing to everyone else they are destroying the Earth through selfish consumption; but, rather an individual willing to go to great lengths to make fuel for my own consumption. When I first became interested in making my own biodiesel, I thought I would use an old 100-gallon stainless steel honey-drum I picked up from a retired beekeeper. It wasn’t until my brother-in-law Ben, during a trip to Kentucky to watch my mentor brew biodiesel in his garage asked, “Why don’t you use one of these water heater designs from the internet. They seem a lot simpler.” I initially scoffed at the idea thinking that old tanks would be problematic: I was dead wrong.
Fifteen recycled water heaters later, I am a dedicated advocate of Appleseed processing. They come in varying shapes and sizes: tradition 30 gallon gas, newer larger ones with fans and gadgets, 1989 state-of -the-art 50 gallon electric…oooh… pretty. Removing the old 220 volt electric elements is the hardest part. Cleaning is relatively easy as all tanks are fitted with ¾ inch female fittings, so the correct adapter and a garden hose will release most of the gunk. Besides, the calcium deposits, left from years of heating hard water, are good for the garden.
I owe a great deal to basis of this technology; without these tanks building my own biodiesel processor would have been much more difficult. Cleaned out tanks provide for an easy way of storing, moving and heating waste vegetable oil, biodiesel, glycerin and water. The fittings are rigid and work well for holding a large configuration of black, galvanized or copper piping. It makes for an interesting visual display. I call it Crazy Horse, but that’s another story.
I love recycling old water heaters, and thus, proudly refer to myself as the owner-operator of one self-built state-of-the-art Appleseed processor. With so many Americans feeling helpless and angry at the cost of fuel, and the state of our dependency on foreign oil, I assure you it is both refreshing and liberating to fill my vehicle up with biodiesel that I made myself from others waste products. This I believe.
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