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!

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