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Tiny Biodiesel Reactors 369

Posted by samzenpus
from the tiny-power-plant dept.
Lee_in_KC writes "A professor of chemical engineering at Oregon State University developed a small reactor to directly convert vegetable oil to biodiesel. Goran Jovanovic reports his invention is approximately the size of a credit card. It pumps vegetable oil and alcohol through parallel channels to convert the oil into biodiesel almost instantly. Current mainstream methods to produce biodiesel take more than a day and also produces other byproducts which must be neutralized before disposal or use in other manufacturing processes."
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Tiny Biodiesel Reactors

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  • Two Words (Score:3, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 19, 2006 @11:47PM (#15162367)
    Mr. Fusion.
  • better article (Score:5, Informative)

    by Quixote (154172) * on Wednesday April 19, 2006 @11:47PM (#15162370) Homepage Journal
    You can find a much better article here [capitalpress.info].

    I'm not sure how feasible this is. Also, as per the longer article (above), it does not eliminate the need for NaOH; unless I'm reading it wrong.

    • Re:better article (Score:5, Informative)

      by NitsujTPU (19263) on Wednesday April 19, 2006 @11:56PM (#15162417)
      This is discussed in the article.

      NaOH is the catalyst used in the reaction.

      The microreactor under development by the university and the Oregon Nanoscience and Microtechnologies Institute eliminates the mixing, the standing time and maybe even the need for a catalyst.
    • Oh, I see. Yeah, you're right. I'm a dork.
    • Re:better article (Score:5, Informative)

      by Hal_Porter (817932) on Thursday April 20, 2006 @01:04AM (#15162706)
      You can run diesel engines on unrefined rapeseed oil if you tweak them a bit

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Straight_vegetable_oi l [wikipedia.org]
      In the UK drivers using SVO have been prosecuted for failure to pay duty to Customs and Excise.

      Biodiesel just means that you can run an umodified engine -

      from
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biodiesel [wikipedia.org]
      Sometimes even unrefined vegetable oil is incorrectly called "biodiesel". Unlike unrefined vegetable oil, biodiesel does not require fuel pre-heating and filtration due to issues with coagulation, and also require no or minimal modification to the fuel system.
      • Re:better article (Score:5, Informative)

        by Gordonjcp (186804) on Thursday April 20, 2006 @02:25AM (#15162999) Homepage
        I've run a few cars on straight waste veg oil. You *do* have to pay fuel duty on it, but at a much lower rate than mineral diesel. You can run straight veg oil in pretty much all the PSA diesels (Peugeot / Renault / Citroën / some Volvo) if they have a Bosch fuel pump - the Lucas ones are more efficient but have tighter running clearances and the increased viscosity will damage them. I've had best results with the 2.5 turbodiesel as fitted to the Citroën CX and various trucks. The XUD-series engines work fairly well too.

        In general running pure veg oil is a pain in the arse because it's very hard to get the engine started. If you weren't going to switch off for more than a few minutes it would be just fine (which might be practical for generators).
        • Re:better article (Score:3, Interesting)

          by mmkkbb (816035)
          my father-in-law modified two old mercedes so that they have dual fuel tanks. he starts up the car on regular diesel to avoid the clogging nature of veggie oil.

          he drives across the US pretty much for free, grabbing waste oil along the way. except in texas. apprently the oil there is too gross to use for fuel :)
      • ah, I see. So with unrefined rapeseed oil, we can skip the step of moving to a hydrogen based economy, and move directly to a "rape" based economy. Where "rape" is the fancy new term for "unrefined rapeseed oil". I'm sure that "rape" will make all of our lives much better.
      • Re:better article (Score:5, Informative)

        by feyhunde (700477) on Thursday April 20, 2006 @05:04AM (#15163393)
        Goran runs his truck on SVO, but biodiesel is more viable as it can use any long chain hydrocarbon to make a fuel. I'm an ex-student of his, and work on several projects with him and the group. Actually a good deal of ground work was done by some students of him last year for their senior engineering project.

        One of the most common things for biodiesel is A. It produces a large amount of Glycerol that might be economically used (I help test that concept last year) and B. it can be mixed with existing diesel to increase overall engine efficiency and reduce smog.

        Since biodiesel is taking pretty much nothing but long chain HCs and using NaOH as a catalyst to reduce em down, and then cleaned (NaOH mostly goes to glycerol if i remember) once the sodium is cleaned out there is nothing but fuel. As a result it's sulfur content is nada. Adding it to regular diesel lets it run hotter and cleaner. The only issue is that biodiesel lacks normal fuel additives used to promote all climate use. Many places have a 20 or 50% mix if they offer it commercially. If you are interested in your self switching I'd suggest looking around for a locale fuel coop. I know the one in C-town has 1.50 a gallon for SVO, and 2.00 or so for Biodiesel.

        The only changes you really need to make for SVO is a few hoses changed around. Not recommended always for colder climates with out adding an engine block heater.
  • by brian0918 (638904) <brian0918@gmai[ ]om ['l.c' in gap]> on Wednesday April 19, 2006 @11:49PM (#15162382)
    Aren't we fat enough without our cars putting on extra pounds as well?!?! Vegetable oil has like 20 grams of fat per serving.. I wonder how many miles-per-gallon my Hummer will get after its intake is clogged with cholesterol..
  • by AWhiteFlame (928642) on Wednesday April 19, 2006 @11:50PM (#15162386) Homepage
    > Conventional production involves dissolving a catalyst, such as sodium hydroxide, in alcohol, then stirring it into vegetable oil in large vats for about two hours. The mixture then has to sit for 12 to 24 hours while a slow chemical reaction forms biodiesel along with glycerin, a byproduct.

    It mentions a byproduct in the conventional method. Am I missing something, or does it not clarify whether or not this new method produces a byproduct?
  • by Easy2RememberNick (179395) on Wednesday April 19, 2006 @11:50PM (#15162389)
    I'd applaude but the sodium methoxide disolved the flesh of my hands.
    • by Flying pig (925874) on Thursday April 20, 2006 @03:30AM (#15163184)
      This is a joke, and somebody who doesn't know organic chemistry from his ass thought it was a troll. Dear idiot, the sodium hydroxide combines with the added alcohol to form sodium methoxide, which then reacts with the oil. The NaOH is not in fact a catalyst, it is an intermediate reaction component. And yes, it is corrosive.

      Don't they teach kids ANY organic chemistry nowadays? How are we to produce the next generation of recreational drug designers and home-made explosives producers that made the West what it is today?

  • ...to put on my tiny biodiesel engine? That way all the other miniature tiny biodiesel trucks will know to blow their tiny horns as I pass...

  • I'm waiting. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by ScaryMonkey (886119) on Wednesday April 19, 2006 @11:51PM (#15162393)
    I'll be interested to see how much the oil companies pay for his patent so they can bury it for the next fifty years.
    • Why would the oil companies do that?
      • you must be new to this country.
        .
        .
        .
        .
        I's OK you'll either adjust or go insane.
        -nB
        • Re:I'm waiting. (Score:3, Insightful)

          Let's set you snide comment aside for a moment.

          Do you think the 'oil companies' would really buy this patent for the sole purpose of burying it?
          • "Do you think the 'oil companies' would really buy this patent for the sole purpose of burying it?"

            What's so hard to believe about it? Oil's a cash cow. Buy the patent, maintain your margins. From a business perspective, it would be dumb for them not to do this.

            • Re:I'm waiting. (Score:5, Informative)

              by Sycraft-fu (314770) on Thursday April 20, 2006 @04:25AM (#15163322)
              Umm ok except that works for 20 years tops. That's how long a patent lasts, they aren't perpetual. Also you can't hide a patent, they are public record.

              Basically, in the US you have two ways of protecting an innovative process: a patent or a trade secret.

              A trade secret is just what it sounds like, a secret. You develop something and don't tell anyone. So let's say I invent a way to turn lead in to gold at my company. I decide to keep it a secret. I release the plans to nobody and make all my employees sign an NDA. Thus I'm the only one who can do it. Fair enough, but there's no special legal protection. If a rival happens to discover how I do it, they are free to use it, it's not a secret anymore.

              So the other route I can take is a patent. Here I publish my method for lead to gold for the world to see in the form of a patent. However, in doing so, I recieve a legal gaurentee that it's mine. You can read all about it, but you can't use it without my permission. I'm free to set the terms on that. But I only have 20 years to do that in. After 20 years, it's assumed I should have made my money, and it's now free for the world.

              Now, while I can decide to patent a trade secret, I can't take something I've patented and make it a secret. Trade secrets are things you have to enforce actively. They don't have any special legal standing, they are just a defacto sort of thing. The government recognises your right to keep a secret if you want, but offers it no special protection. One it's no longer a secret, too bad for you, should have gotten a patent before hand.

              So if the oil companies bought a patent to sit on it, they are just buying themselves 20 years. Ok maybe that's the point, but you can't keep claiming that they are "sitting on a patent" that they allegedly got 50 years ago, because it's been public domain for 30 years already.
              • Re:I'm waiting. (Score:3, Informative)

                by Xeth (614132)

                A trade secret is just what it sounds like, a secret. You develop something and don't tell anyone. So let's say I invent a way to turn lead in to gold at my company. I decide to keep it a secret. I release the plans to nobody and make all my employees sign an NDA. Thus I'm the only one who can do it. Fair enough, but there's no special legal protection. If a rival happens to discover how I do it, they are free to use it, it's not a secret anymore.

                That's ever so wrong [upenn.edu]

      • Re:I'm waiting. (Score:3, Informative)

        by ScaryMonkey (886119)
        Because energy companies have all the infrastructure in place to continue profiting off of petroleum. Switching over to alternative fuels would require massive restructuring of their operations and investment in new infrastructure. Oil companies are not necessarily averse to alternative fuels per se, but at the moment their cost-benefit analyses will tell them that its easier and more profitable to continue focusing on petroleum. When there is little enough oil left that it becomes unprofitable to keep e
    • I'll be interested to see how much the oil companies pay for his patent so they can bury it for the next fifty years.

      Or how much the university demands in licensing fees.

      Far too much good technology goes unused for years until patents expire because their creators overestimate how much they're worth (or simply get greedy.)

      Dolby had it right. He licensed Dolby technology at a price so cheap (a few cents per tape player) that manufacturers were happy to pay it. So- every tape player ended up with Dolb

    • Precisely nothing (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Ogemaniac (841129)
      Didn't your Econ 101 prof erase this myth for you long ago? Simply put, if big oil or anyone else has a useful patent, they could make more money by using it than hiding it.

      IF Big Oil is greedy, and IF Big Oil owns a useful patent, they Will use it.
      • Simply put, if big oil or anyone else has a useful patent, they could make more money by using it than hiding it.

        You act like this is some inherent law of the universe. It's not.

        There can be many situations in which the profits generated by a fuel-saving device would be miniscule next to the loss of profits for the oil companies.

        In fact I recall a specific case where Honda simply refused to license a specific patent it had on battery technologies, opting to keep it locked-up instead. Due to the overwhelmi

    • It is never profitable to hide a good technology to protect your older inferior technology. Assuming oil companies are greedy, they would USE this patent, not ignore it (assuming it was profitable in the first place).
  • by WillAffleck (42386) on Wednesday April 19, 2006 @11:51PM (#15162394)
    I find it interesting that the biodiesel reactor is - literally - the size of a credit card.

    Biodiesel car upgrade $50
    New fuel lines $80
    Energy independence ... Priceless!

    For a free fuel life, there's GTA
    For everything else, there's BiodieselCard.
    • Energy independence ... Priceless!

      So it's really going to suck that we have to buy the corn from Mongolia.

      KFG
      • Yeah, it would. They would have to pump in water to turn the corn into cream corn to ship it back out again. At least the environmentalists won't have a cow if the pipeline has a leak since cream corn is very biodegradeable.
      • So it's really going to suck that we have to buy the corn from Mongolia.

        No, not really. Remember: there's a LOT of ariable land in this country. As the price of oil keeps going up, we're getting closer and closer to the point where an acre of corn-for-fuel looks like a better and better deal.

        In less than 200 years, expect the United States to be back as a net exporter of "oil", due both to the loss of fossil fuels and our high tech return to our agrarian roots.
    • Gives a whoooole new meaning to ....

      "Charge Carred"

      And, if it acts as your ignition key, then it could be...

      "Plug-in-Drive"
    • You don't need new fuel lines if your engine is made within the last 20 years or so. Also, there's no need to upgrade anything, just fill your car and go.

      I've been making biodiesel for a few years now and it still gets me just how uninformed everybody is on it.

      You can see pics of my reactor at http://www.watters.ws/gallery/biodiesel [watters.ws]. I just uploaded some newer pictures last week.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Given that the pipes are smaller than a human hair, it's funny that the article says nothing about how many devices would you need to pump out commercially viable quantities.

    From the article:
    The device - about the size of a credit card - pumps vegetable oil and alcohol through tiny parallel channels, each smaller than a human hair, to convert the oil into biodiesel almost instantly...The device is small, but it can be stacked in banks to increase production levels to the volume required for commercial use.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      Think like a catalytic converter on your car. each cell in the honeycombe is small but in parallel(each device having multiple channels) you get a large flowrate. Each device produces only a miniscule amount but its more than the flow of a single hair sized pipe. "Arranged this way, a unit about the size of a computer printer and costing $1,000 to $5,000 could produce as much as 50,000 to 100,000 gallons of biodiesel a year." -the other article on the device.

      On a side note the device still does use NaOH but
  • by ScrewMaster (602015) on Wednesday April 19, 2006 @11:56PM (#15162419)
    I mean, my car already runs on a credit-card-sized device. It's called a credit card.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 20, 2006 @12:03AM (#15162443)
    "Essentially, the reactors, which can range in size from less than a square inch to several square inches, use tiny, parallel channels no larger in diameter than a human hair, to bring the alcohol and vegetable oil into contact with each other in the presence of a sodium hydroxide catalyst.

    What results is not only a tiny stream of 100 percent biodiesel fuel, but also glycerin, the latter having uses in making soaps and even fossil fuel-free plastics.

    The microreactors, each of which produces only a minute amount of biodiesel, are designed to be used with thousands of others of the same size in a single, integrated system."

    Sounds like the mechanical equivalent of an organ.
    • Sounds like the mechanical equivalent of an organ.
      I believe that's spelled "Beowulf Cluster" around here.
    • "What results is not only a tiny stream of 100 percent biodiesel fuel, but also glycerin, the latter having uses in making soaps and even fossil fuel-free plastics."

      Now just add the glycerin to a couple of acids in the correct quantities and BOOM! (Actual details not supplied for pretty obvious reasons!)
  • Really? (Score:4, Funny)

    by LoRdTAW (99712) on Thursday April 20, 2006 @12:03AM (#15162445)
    "a unit about the size of a computer printer and costing $1,000 to $5,000 could produce as much as 50,000 to 100,000 gallons of biodiesel a year."
    "Jovanovic compared it to Hewlett-Packard when that company invented the inkjet printer cartridge."


    Looks at printer sized bio diesel generator: ...REPLACE CYAN BIO DIESEL CARTRIDGE...

    This guy must really like printers.
    • Looks at printer sized bio diesel generator: ...REPLACE CYAN BIO DIESEL CARTRIDGE...

      This guy must really like printers.


      Actually, many scientific labs at state universities use printers and printer heads a lot - for example, a new sealed plastic crystal suspension device created at the University of Washington uses HP inkjets (cheap to get, and colored Husky Purple) to deliver reagants in controlled amounts into plastic tubes which are then sealed by laser.

      Every university has a section that recycles compute
    • More like HP has a massive compound in the same town. And several of his partners work/worked for HP. I know one of the prototypes was built under another prof who also spends 1 day a week at the printer cartridge factory in town on his way to retirement. Essentially when you talk with someone who spent the last 30 years working on printers, it rubs off and makes you talk about em.

      Not to mention that HP has sometimes been good with funding and he might be trolling for some.
  • It's more concentrated in terms of caloric value (energy).

    Plus, PETA's reaction would be hysterical.
  • by SpeedBump0619 (324581) on Thursday April 20, 2006 @12:34AM (#15162586)
    From TFA:

    "If we're successful with this, nobody will ever make biodiesel any other way,"

    So, what you are trying to say is that you haven't ever done it, but in *theory* it should be a phenomenal improvement over exiting methods of biodeisel production...

    I'll be over here holding my breath.
  • Does it still smell like fried chicken and french fries when you drive down the road?
  • Desktop Fusion.
  • by thatseattleguy (897282) on Thursday April 20, 2006 @12:49AM (#15162641) Homepage
    ...is whether it can run in reverse: pump in biodiesel and veggie oil, and get pure alcohol out the other end. Then we'll really have something! :}
  • biodiesel++ (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Doc Ruby (173196) on Thursday April 20, 2006 @12:56AM (#15162667) Homepage Journal
    Japanese researchers announced several months ago that they've eliminated the need for expensive acids [treehugger.com] in biodiesel reactors.
    • I'm sure there are many more way to improve this technology and make it more efficient and cost-effective.

      After all, it's not like is has had the kind of push that other technologies have had for much longer..
  • by Fallen Kell (165468) on Thursday April 20, 2006 @01:02AM (#15162699)
    Basically the concept is on paper only. Why else would he be stating things like "If it works...", or "...could reduce...", "...might not need a catalyst..." etc.? It is because they havn't gotten a working prototype yet. They basically believe that their design could work, as they have done the chemical reaction analysis as well as a design analysis on how to cause the chemical reaction to occur quickly and efficently. But again, this is all on paper still. We don't even know yet if their results from the chemical reaction simulation are correct yet!
  • The article, in typical mass-media fashion, does not name the alcohol, but I assume this is methyl alcohol. That, and the cost of NaOH, makes this a non-cheap process.
  • by Pfhor (40220) on Thursday April 20, 2006 @01:46AM (#15162839) Homepage
    Combine these reactors with these http://science.slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=06/01/1 1/1718256 [slashdot.org] algae who eat CO2 and can be pressed for a vegetable oil, and your coil burning power plant is now more eco friendly. You can also just grow large amounts of other algae and use them to produce the veggie oil also.
  • Goran Jovanovic reports his invention is approximately the size of a credit card.

    I'm wow-factor-shocked! Size of a credit card.

    Ok now that this has passed, the amount of fuel you can process with one of these a diesel butterfly, for more, you need a pretty large stack of those.

    Pretty impressive and futuristic nonetheless, even if the prospect of carrying a portable biodiesel reactor in your wallet is busted.
  • by kmavro (968490) on Thursday April 20, 2006 @05:38AM (#15163456)
    There are still some unresolved technical concerns with the use of biodiesel at concentration greater than 5%. Some of the concerns are:
            Requires special care at low temperatures to avoid excessive rise in viscosity and loss of fluidity
            Storage is a problem due to higher then normal risk of microbial contamination due to water absorption as well as a higher rate of oxidation stability which creates insoluble gums and sediment deposits
            Being hygroscopic, the fuel tends to have increased water content, which increases the risk of corrosion
            Biodiesel tends to cause higher engine deposit formations
            The methyl esters in biodiesel fuel may attack the seals and composite materials used in vehicle fuel systems
            It may attack certain metals such as zinc, copper based alloys, cast iron, tin, lead, cobalt, and manganese
            It is an effective solvent, and can act as a paint stripper, whilst it will tend to loosen deposits in the bottom of fuel tanks of vehicles previously run on mineral diesel

    https://www.fleet.ford.com/showroom/environmental_ vehicles/BiodieselTechnology.asp [ford.com]
    • Biodiesel B20 (20% biodiesel/80% petroldiesel) already has 45 million road miles of testing with no side effects.

      ASTM already has standards for a 20% blend.

      Go to Biodiesel.org's Fact sheets [biodiesel.org] and have look for yourself. If you were to use 100% biodiesel, some of your quoted concerns would need to be addressed. Not that big a deal- just need to replace pure rubber for fuel lines, check and replace fuel filters for diesels that have already been in service, and preheat/keep warm any diesel driven vehicles i

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