Non-commercial and Home Biodiesel Safety
Are There Any Safety Concerns?
Biodiesel is considered a safe, nontoxic substance. However, the production process can be dangerous and should be treated with the utmost caution and care. The greatest safety concern with small-scale biodiesel production is the handling of methanol, a chemical used in the making of biodiesel. Methanol is a highly flammable and extremely dangerous chemical. It burns with a nearly invisible (blue) flame and can easily explode, even with a small spark. Many deaths and injuries have been caused by methanol explosions.
In addition to being highly flammable and explosive, methanol is harmful by ingestion, inhalation or through skin absorption. If you can smell the methanol, then you may have already been exposed to dangerous levels of it. Exposure to methanol may cause irritation of the eyes, nose, mouth and throat. It can lead to liver damage and cause headaches, cardiac depression, nausea, vomiting, blurred vision, optic nerve damage, dizziness and a feeling of intoxication. Methanol exposure also may lead to severe abdominal, leg and back pain. Repeated contact can dry the skin, resulting in cracking, peeling and itching. Methanol can cause temporary or permanent blindness when inhaled, ingested or passed through the skin. Exposure to high concentrations can result in coma or death. More information can be found in a Methanol Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) .
To prevent inhalation injuries, biodiesel should always be produced in a well-ventilated area. The following links provide more safety information on biodiesel production:
- Biodiesel Safety and Best Management Practices for Small-Scale Noncommercial Use and Production
- University of Idaho Biodiesel Safety Video
- Methanol Institute's Methanol Safe Handling Manual
Often fire and building codes make the typical residential location unsuitable for biodiesel production. The amount of methanol you are allowed to store at a residence varies substantially by location. Large stocks of methanol and oil in private homes are a great concern to local firefighters. More than one house has burned down over the years because of biodiesel production at the home. Home and farm insurance policies may not cover losses due to biodiesel production, such as fires.