Monday, October 11, 2010
It is important to remember that our project is not an entirely new creation. History shows that great original ideas often arose out of work already completed, and this biodiesel project is of a similar vein. Research done by undergraduates at Loyola, notably under the Hauber Scholarship program, has shed much light on the generation of biodiesel for a greener fuel alternative. Our project follows directly on the heels of their work with microreactors (discussed later), but also with other previous attempts.
Early biodiesel generation was performed in several ways, one of which was via rotating drums. The main components of biodiesel, methanol and soy oil, do not mix well and in fact resist reaction; furthermore, when that reaction takes place soap is naturally generated as a by-product and contaminates the fuel. The use of a catalyst is needed to encourage the two ingredients to react, and a rotating drum would have its interior coated with the catalyst. This led to a problem of not having enough of the mixture come into contact with the drum walls and thus not be converted into biodiesel.
Another attempted method involved pouring the mixture over nodules of catalyst in an effort to increase the total surface area the mixture would be exposed to. This also led to not enough of the mixture being converted to biodiesel.
The microreactor method we will be attempting takes a small piece of glass roughly the size of a microscope slide and imprints in silicone the path for the materials to flow. That flowline is coated with nickel-oxide, the catalyst we will be testing. The yield rate for this reactor will be small, but we hope to increase the quality of biodiesel generated.
Just a quick introduction to start.. my name is Kyle Slusarski and I am a senior materials engineering major here at Loyola. I acted as team leader for the past two weeks and I am quite excited about our early progress thus far. I'll use this post to highlight some of our accomplishments and to explain how the blog will be used throughout the year. I'll also give some personal reflection of my time as team leader.
On a personal level, my feelings regarding the project have undergone a great transformation. Early on, I felt overwhelmed and apprehensive, often wondering how and where I should begin to tackle the "unenviable task" (as Mike put it) of getting the team started on the right foot. Even though I was technically the team leader for the past two weeks, I felt there were even contributions from each member of our group, which I greatly appreciated. In light of this, I decided that my primary role should be to guide our group in the right direction, which lead us straight to our project advisor, Dr. Bailey. After meeting with him and unloading questions, I was overcome with a sense of clarity that replaced the ambiguity that had lingered just days before. The big picture finally came into view.
During our meeting, we established a workspace where we can begin initial testing of existing microreactors and syringe pumps, which we hope to investigate as a possible method for delivering reactants. We also established primary and secondary responsibilities for various phases of our project. The phases include (but are not limited to) laboratory testing, biodiesel product analysis, computer software modeling, solar panel design and testing, and analysis of societal relevance. I will be leading the analysis of our fuel product, while also participating in the lab testing. I'll let the others talk about their responsibilities as they post.
On to the blog: each team leader will post an entry to the blog after their two weeks as team leader has expired. These posts will give an account of our group's progress. I suspect that the communication will pick up as we get further into the project (you can expect to see A LOT of pictures once lab testing gets underway), so be sure to stay tuned!