Monday, October 11, 2010

TOPIC: Past Attempts to Generate Biodiesel

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.

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