Monday, December 13, 2010

Background on the Green Machine

Biodiesel production makes use of a chemical process known as transesterification, which involves a catalytic reaction of vegetable oil with an alcohol, generally methanol. The molar ratio of methanol to vegetable oil is 3:1; however, excess methanol is often used because it helps to drive the reaction since methanol and vegetable oil do not readily mix. Both the catalyst and the excess methanol are therefore key elements to help spur the reaction forward. Although biodiesel production has become increasingly available over the past several years, improvements are necessary in order to make the process more efficient and cost effective. Two studies in particular, conducted by Loyola affiliates, have provided a basis for the Green Machine project. These studies are as follows: 1) “Going Green: A Better Way to Make Biodiesel”—Kerri Ruggiero and Paul La Plante’s 2008 Hauber Summer Research project, and 2) “Micro Chemical Processing Technology for Production of Biodiesel Fuel”—a project in which both Dr. Bailey and Dr. Lowe participated.

In essence, the Green Machine is a continuation of the two previous studies mentioned above. Because this project is adding onto the findings of prior work, not every possible alternative to making biodiesel fuel will be considered. That is, this project deals with some predetermined constraints. First, the reactants set forth by the Hauber Summer Research project will be used. Specifically, these reactants are soy oil, methanol, and a solid catalyst of nickel oxide (NiO). Additionally, microreactor technology will be used to contain the reaction needed to produce the biodiesel.

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