Saturday, December 6, 2008

IBC Totes

Today we got a bunch of IBC totes (which are approximately 250 gallon containers) from the biodiesel university and WSSC which we hope to sell and use.  The proceeds will go to the farm and hopefully some will be included in the costs of insulating our workspace.

Motor Week is going to be coming down to interview us about the project, so we cleaned up the lab.  (Or tried, at least.)  It is freezing at the Farm so the insulation and extra wall will be extremely welcome.

Good luck on finals!

Tuesday, December 2, 2008


Apparently Safeway, the food retailer, is using biodiesel in their fleet of cars in an effort to become more green.  Read the full story here:

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Mike's Corrections

Ultrasound creates areas of 1000 atm and 5000 K.  My bad.  Still, the glycerol started falling out right away with the process.

The cold weather should begin effecting our process soon.  In our people's experiences, biodiesel forms wax crystals at low tempuratures, hence a lot of biodiesel blends with standard petro-diesel.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Ultra sound

Our first tests with ultra sound have been highly successful!  The practicalities of ultra sound are less so, but here is a general idea of what is happening.

The sonic vibrations create small pockets within the substrate and heat individual sections to around 1000 F while vigorously agitating them.  This acts as a fantastic catalyst... in the lab.  The possibility of putting it into action at the farm is a completely different situation.  But we will keep on looking into the possibility.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Random updates

On December 4th, the SGA will be hosting a party for the leaders of different organizations.  If you are interested, please contact Mike German.

If you are interested in working in the lab over winter break, please contact Ryan.  He will be here, along with myself and Marsha (albeit us two less than him).

Friday, November 7, 2008

Meeting Results

At the meeting, we discussed the acquisition of our new pump, the oil shortage, IR spectra, new possible catalysts and a networking contact that Mike found
We finally purchased the new pump.  Trying it out will have to wait until the oil shortage is over.  It seems that the Middle East has opened it's doors (with crude at $60/barrel) but Chartwells has closed them.  Mike believes that the dining hall staff is having internal communication problems, but until further notice, we have no actual oil to process.  Ah well.  Just another day at the normal gas pump, I suppose.
The IR spectra has been completed for the moment.  Ryan and I completed an IR spectra analysis of different purities of bio-diesel (methyl esters vs. waster vegetable oil) from 10-0 to 0-10.  Ryan also wrote a MatLAB program to find the relative peaks within the IR analysis so that we could plot and find the purity of bio-diesel by comparing it's spectra.
IR analysis works by hitting a sample with light and measuring the different infra-red light that it gives off.  The photons within the light agitate the bonds within the different materials.  These bonds act as springs.  Depending on the strength of the bonds they will vibrate differently, releasing different frequencies of light.  These frequencies can be plotted rather easily, but gaining useful information from straight data is slightly more complex.  The first thing that one needs to be understood is that all of the peaks are relative.  This is because the amount of light shown upon the test sample will cause different amounts of light to be given off.  Imagine the springs once more- if you stretch them more, they will vibrate more.  Therefore, all of the sizes much be relative.  The other problem is that the data is commonly slanted, forcing users to straighten the curve before applying a quantitative analysis to it.
Ryan's program does both.  In addition, he managed to make a comparative analysis of key peak sizes with Excel, identifying the peaks relative sizes in a much more chronologically economical manner.
New catalysts are being identified for testing in the lab as well.  Metal catalysts (including rust) have the benefit of not causing soap formation within the process and skipping the use of potentially dangerous methoxide.  Bismith Perchlorate is another possibility, in addition to Zeolites.  Organic catalysts have been researched, but most of them require the use of high temperature and pressure and have been deemed impractical and uneconomical.  BiClO4, rust and Zeolites have been acquired by the group and we hope to begin testing in the lab soon.
The networking contact is one of the leaders of the transport department.  From the information gathered, UMBC has five dying buses, of which we may put two on B20.  The eight oldest buses cost UMBC approximately $240,000 per annum, whereas new buses cost anywhere from $7-10,000 per year in maintenance.  We also learned that UMCP attempted a similar project and found themselves having gelling issues (when bio-diesel partially forms wax crystals within the fuel), but we don't know enough information to deem whether this is an imminent problem.  (Methyl esters gel at a low temperature, but petro-diesel blends increase the temperature at which this occurs.  Depending on the purity, temperature and blend of the bio-diesel, we may not have to deal with this.)
Hopefully Chartwells will open up it's gates to us once more and the oil will flow.  Best of luck!

Tuesday, November 4, 2008


Today the lab work on the distillation was begun.  We didn't get as much as we needed, but the distillation will continue.  For future reference, the lab is in the Chemistry building in room 142, accessible through the door at 140.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

New kit

We have purchased a gas mask for the person scooping the KOH(s) and are looking into purchasing new pumps for the tanks.  (Anyone who has scooped pot ash can tell you, breathing the fumes burns.)  We are also looking into things to wear so that spilling KOH on clothing won't destroy it when it goes through the wash (like lab coats or the like).  If anyone has any ideas on any of these purchases, contact Mike!

Friday, October 31, 2008

Researchers Wanted

If you are interesting in doing dedicated campus based biodiesel research, Ryan is looking for you!  About 8 hours a work per week, Tuesday and Thursday!  Email him the following:

1. Any in class lab experience?
2. Outside class lab experience?
3. Do you feel comfortable in a lab?
4. Are you a klutz?  (Be honest.)
5. Major?
6. Year?

Farm this Saturday!

There is a trip to the farm this Saturday!  All interest in manual labor, please contact Mike soon!

Sunday, October 26, 2008


At the farm, Dr. Arnold and Matt have tested out the methanol recovery system (with a low temperature vacuum system).  They are now attempting to find out how pure the methanol is to see how viable reusing it could be.  Reuse is an environmentally friendly option but purity would be a factor in considering how economical the product is.

In the lab, Ryan is trying to figure out methods to quantitatively describe the purity of the bio-diesel.  IR spectra is being used, but there is no reference solution as of yet (other than those found in an ancient tome of spectra).  Plans exist to distill a portion of the bio-diesel already made into pure methyl esters to use them for the reference solution.

Ryan is also attempting to find out which type of reaction is most efficient for transesterification- single stage base, dual stage base and dual stage acid base.  The samples are being created now with plans to compare them (in terms of soap production, ease of implementation and cost).

Friday, October 17, 2008

Meeting Results

My apologies about the incorrect meeting time.  I got there late and so I only have part of the updates.  On the table were discussions about a certification process, a redesign of the heating process to increase safety, the possibility of heating the room with the bio-diesel and tonight's farm trip.
As for the certification, Dr. Arnold brought up the possibility of certification to use the bio-diesel facility.  At least one certified member would need to be present per batch process.  Once a certain proficiency with the apparatus was demonstrated, one could obtain this status.  This would reduce the amount of time senior members would need to be present individually and increase the amount of participation by younger members.  Exact standards for this have yet to be set.  At present, we can make 80 gallons of bio-diesel per week, with only two trips down per week.  With the certification process, each senior member would need to come down only once a month for a time span of five hours to achieve this amount.
The heating process failed last Thursday.  The methanol inside of the water heater combusted (after hitting it's flash point).  A solution proposed for this would be to heat up the water within the water heater and circulate this through the bio-diesel (in tubes, as a heat exchanger).  This would not only reduce the need to heat up the liquids but it would also minimize the possibility of starting any other combustions with the methanol.  (Bio-diesel's flash point is too high to combust under normal circumstances.)
The concept of heating the farm's room is not a new one.  In the future, it is entirely possible that the whole farm could be powered by an electric generator running off of a diesel engine, but at the moment the diesel heater would be too expensive and possibly dangerous.  At the moment, a heat exchanger from the water heater seems more realistic.
Tonight's trip will be an attempt to use a vacuum process to recover the methanol.  Good luck to them!


We will be meeting at 2:45 in the Student Organizations Room in the Commons.

Sunday, October 12, 2008


UMBC's biodiesel club is a small group of UMBC students, faculty and outsiders who are dedicated to biodiesel.  We have created a small apple-seed reactor and have this at the farm.  Of the officers, we currently have Mike German (President), Fellipe Baliero (Vice President), Ashrith Mathias (Treasurer), Ryan Park (Treasurer) and Tim Courtney (Partner in Crime).  If anyone has a strong interest in biodiesel and would like to be involved in the production or consumption of biodiesel, trying PR or would just like to help us in any way, please contact Mike at (