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!