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Finding a better way to make biodiesel

They're only 250 billionths of a meter in diameter. But fill them with the right chemistry and Iowa State scientists say the tiny nanospheres they've developed could revolutionize how biodiesel is produced.

The researchers are after a new, high-tech catalyst that takes some of the energy, labor and toxic chemicals out of biodiesel production. They've come up with a technology that works in the laboratory. And now they're working with the West Central Cooperative in Ralston to test their discoveries on a larger scale. They're also working to establish a company that would move the new technology into biorefineries.

The Iowa State research team is led by Victor Lin, an associate professor of chemistry. The team also includes George Kraus and John Verkade, both University Professors of chemistry at Iowa State. The researchers are part of Iowa State's Center for Catalysis.

Their project is being supported by a $1.8 million, three-year grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a $120,000, two-year grant from the U.S. Department of Energy and a $140,000 grant from the Grow Iowa Values Fund.

"This is a project that's definitely relevant to the state's economy," Lin said. "I thought as a scientist I could contribute something to the state."

Current biodiesel production technology reacts soy oil with methanol using toxic, corrosive and flammable sodium methoxide as a catalyst. Getting biodiesel out of the chemical mixture requires acid neutralization, water washes and separation steps. It's a tedious process that dissolves the catalysts so they can't be used again, Lin said.

So Lin and his research team started looking for technologies that would create an easier, more efficient and more economical process. They were also hoping to find technologies that would effectively make biodiesel out of raw materials such as used restaurant oils and animal fats ?materials that are much cheaper than soy oil, but also contain free fat
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Source:Iowa State University


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