Microreactor could make biodiesel production simpler, more affordable
May 1, 2006 12:00 PM
Researchers at Oregon State University (OSU) may have figured out a way for farmers to locally produce a clean-burning diesel fuel substitute made from vegetable oil and alcohol.
All that's needed is a recently developed biodiesel microreactor from OSU, and production facilities could crop up on farms almost anywhere in the nation — or around the world, says Goran Jovanovic, the OSU chemical engineering professor who developed the microreactor.
“If you can make biodiesel from your own fields, that process creates wealth locally that is not exported,” says Jovanovic. “That's what I call freedom: the freedom to produce your own energy.”
OSU's new microreactor bypasses costly, time-consuming biodiesel production methods currently in use. Instead, it relies on a process that simultaneously pumps oil and alcohol through a series of tiny, parallel channels, as small as a human hair, until a chemical reaction converts the oil into biodiesel almost instantaneously.
The new technology could be on the market within a year, says Jovanovic.
Just as micro-breweries compete with large beer companies for local markets, this new microreactor could enable farmers to compete with big oil and energy companies to create their own, local fuels. “Eighty percent of the price of biodiesel is tied up in the price of oil and alcohol,” says Jovanovic. “However, using local resources reduces input costs and provides phenomenal profit opportunities.”
One-fifth of the total volume used in creating biodiesel could come from ethanol, and four-fifths could come from vegetable oils, such as corn, cotton, soybeans, or canola, says Jovanovic. “Just about any triglyceride will work,” he says.
Potentially, a group of farmers could buy a small crusher to make oil from soybeans or some other crop and use the new microreactor to produce biodiesel from the oil and ethanol, says Jovanovic. “If we can empower a farmer to produce all the energy he needs for his own operation, that's a pretty infectious idea,” he says. “In this case, energy is just another word for freedom.”
For more information, access oregonstate.edu/dept/ncs/newsarch/2006/Feb06/microreactors.htm.
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