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Tiny Biodiesel Reactors 369

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

    by cryfreedomlove ( 929828 ) on Thursday April 20, 2006 @12:17AM (#15162512)
    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?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 20, 2006 @12:27AM (#15162564)
    The energy returned on energy invested for biofuel is about 1/10th what it is for petroleum, and the current method of food production is completely dependent on fossil fuels, and INSUSTAINABLE. []

    The ONLY answer is to switch to nuclear power, ASAP.
  • 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.
  • Re:I'm waiting (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Cid Highwind ( 9258 ) on Thursday April 20, 2006 @12:54AM (#15162661) Homepage
    There is a 100 mpg carburetor patent that an oil company is sitting on.

    This story has been floating around since the 1950s, far longer than any patent term. Either EvilOilCo has a hundred-year patent to go with their hundren-mile-per-gallon car, or there never was such a device...
  • by SuperBanana ( 662181 ) on Thursday April 20, 2006 @01:09AM (#15162722)
    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 Dolby licensed technology, and he made millions.

  • by Ogemaniac ( 841129 ) on Thursday April 20, 2006 @02:08AM (#15162915)
    they would immediately jump into the car business and make far more money that way than they could selling oil. Variations of this are demonstrated in every basic economics book. Quit spewing this ludicrious, repeatedly-refuted myth.

    For example, let us assume this is the status quo:

    1: Big Oil owns a patent for a 100 mpg car that can be produced at the same cost with the same features as a regular car

    2: A "regular" car costs $20,000, gets 25 mpg, and is driven 100,000 miles (4000 gallons, lifetime) at $3/gallon

    3: Big Oil has a 10% profit margin on gasoline, and Detroit/Japan have a 10% margin on regular cars

    Now, here is the first question. How much would YOU, the average consumer, be willing to pay for a new BigOil brand car? Well, the total cost of car + gas of a regular car is $32000. So as long as a BigOil car costs less in total, you would buy it. Since it will have a gasoline cost of $3000, it stands to reason that you will choose a Big Oil car for any price up to $29000.

    Now, where does Big Oil make more profits? The status quo or by selling BigOil cars? Well, in the status quo, they sell you $12000 worth of gas and keep $1200 after costs. Not bad! But what if they instead sell you a BigOil car? Well, the cost of producing a BigOil or regular car is $18,000. Yet they can sell it to you for $29000, an $11000 profit. They can then snatch $300 more on profits from the remaining gas they sell you, for a total of $11,300.

    Now assuming Big Oil is greedy (a safe assumption), which do you think they would rather have? $1200 or $11300?

    Myth refuted. Please move along.
  • by WoTG ( 610710 ) on Thursday April 20, 2006 @03:09AM (#15163125) Homepage Journal
    The cost of an automobile factory is comparable to the cost of an ocean oil drilling platform or those freaky oil sands developments here in Canada. Big Oil is plenty used to billion dollar investments. Besides, they could always contract out manufacturing.
  • by Flying pig ( 925874 ) on Thursday April 20, 2006 @03:38AM (#15163200)
    100 mpg carburettor? Rest assured, if there was indeed a carburettor which, just by bolting on, caused a heat engine to violate the laws of thermodynamics, the Government would have taken it over by now. And if it was a patent, the text would be in the public domain. As for batteries, if you knew any chemistry you would know that the problem with batteries is that their energy densities are already pushing the theoretical limits. It's just that, because we insist on travelling around at ridiculous speeds, the energy storage needed for our vehicles is enormous.

    However, it's clearly a demonstration of the problems of the patent system that someone as ignorant of basic physics and chemistry as this can get a patent.

    Yes, I am in a bad mood today. Totally ignorant postings and moderations on science and technology always have that effect on me.

  • by somersault ( 912633 ) on Thursday April 20, 2006 @05:47AM (#15163483) Homepage Journal
  • by MrSnivvel ( 210105 ) on Thursday April 20, 2006 @06:05AM (#15163517) Homepage

    I generally agree, and welcome with open arms, with your point, but have just one thing to point out:

    Screw corn. There are crops that are much better suited for oil production. My personal bias is for Hemp. These are not for the NORML [] reasons people think of. Here is a chart that illustrates the gal./acre of various crops ml []. From that chart, Hemp produces over twice as much oil in a single growing as does corn. Coupled with that and the fact that Hemp in most parts of the continental US, multiple plantings per year can be achieved. The South can get at least 3, maybe 4 plantings. Hell, it's a weed, not like it has the genetic capacity to survive.

    Of course, there is that minor technicality of the Porky Pigs of the DEA [] being unenlightened; but with the price of Oil at ~$73 a barrel and climbing, the chances for change increase with the continued upward movement.

    We can only hope.

  • by LDSearch ( 969577 ) on Thursday April 20, 2006 @07:21AM (#15163646) Homepage
    I also think that oil companies will most probably just buy this patent (offer him an offer he cant refuse :). Big companies just care about profit. But look at it the othwer way - what if this invention would be success and not bought by some oil company - imagine how many jobs will be lost by declining profits of oil companies.Thousands of jobs will be cut, entire economies slidding etc. The oil business is such a big machine that if it falls then it will be probalby bigger disaster than them "buying out" the inventor. Sad but true.
  • by toganet ( 176363 ) <> on Thursday April 20, 2006 @07:53AM (#15163720) Homepage
    According to the US Economic Census, the Oil industry employs about 95,000 people inside the US. The US has lost 2.6 Million manufacturing jobs since 2001.

    Gas stations, etc., would still need to exist -- they would just sell a different fuel.
  • Dumb argument (Score:3, Insightful)

    by porkThreeWays ( 895269 ) on Thursday April 20, 2006 @09:00AM (#15164006)
    First, biodiesel (diesel in general) is more efficient than current gasoline engines. It would behoove the world to have diesel engines.

    Second doesn't need to be repeated as other posts have explained it.

    Third, do you realize how many tens of thousands of pounds (maybe hundreds of thousands???) of food the US government buys from farmers and destroys each year to control food prices? The issue of the starving world isn't food. It's getting them the food. And much blood has been spilled trying to do it (remember Somalia?).

    Reliance on bio-diesel would possibly be one of the best possible outcomes in the oil war we could have. Almost anyone can produce vegtables. Oil is a fossil fuel that takes millions of years to produce. There are only a few places with fossil fuels. If there were a reliance upon biodiesel, we'd see entire farms just for the purpose of producing biodiesel vegtables. The wealth would be back in the hands of farmers rather than oil tycoons. If for nothing else, no more blood would be spilled over oil.
  • by ThosLives ( 686517 ) on Thursday April 20, 2006 @10:31AM (#15164696) Journal
    Thank you! Finally, someone who realizes that the only way to get a 100 mpg vehicle is to build one that does not move very fast, cannot go up a hill, and is also otherwise not very useful. For instance, if you have a 100% efficient gasoline engine, and it's running gasoline with 114,300 kJ/gal energy content, and you have a nice low drag coefficient (Cd*A = (.3 x 2 m2) = .6 m2), you could get 121 mpg at 40 miles per hour on a flat road with no wind and no rolling resistance. Now, if you've got a good engine (30% efficient), you'll get 40 mpg with the same engine. Wow, look. That's what we've got today. Now, if you only want to go 25 mph, you can get 100 mpg...
  • by Taxman415a ( 863020 ) on Thursday April 20, 2006 @02:13PM (#15166823) Homepage Journal
    My god, I was hoping you had made some of those errors copying it over, but there they are right on Ford's website. Sounds like Ford is just trying once again to explain why they are not helping to develop cleaner technology, but still want to say they are.
    *Requires special ... - Yes that's true biodiesel gels at higher temperatures
    *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 - Did they really just say higher rate of oxidative stability?? Biodiesel is more biodegradable, thus more degradable and doesn't store for as long. There's tradeoffs--less toxic if you spill it means it doesn't store as well.
    *Biodiesel tends to cause ... - There's not really any evidence of this as it contradicts the last point of biodiesel being a good solvent/detergent. It cleans engine parts. If there is evidence of this, I haven't seen it, and Ford certainly doesn't present any.
    *The methyl esters ... - People have already pointed out that everyone else just switched to seals and hoses that are more resistant to this type of thing. Marginal cost difference.
    *It is an effective solvent... - This is true, but the end of it is stupid sticking they're head in the sand. All you do it check your fuel filters more for a little while and once the crud is cleaned out you're better off.

    Engine's just need to be designed for biodiesel and this won't happen until the market matures more and there are greater economic incentives to do so.

In the realm of scientific observation, luck is granted only to those who are prepared. - Louis Pasteur