Lin has developed a nanotechnology that accurately controls the production of tiny, uniformly shaped silica particles. Running all the way through the particles are honeycombs of relatively large channels that can be filled with a catalyst that reacts with soybean oil to create biodiesel. The particles can also be loaded with chemical gatekeepers that encourage the soybean oil to enter the channels where chemical reactions take place. The results include faster conversion to biodiesel, a catalyst that can be recycled and elimination of the wash step in the production process.
Lin's particles can also be used as a catalyst to efficiently convert animal fats into biodiesel by creating a mixed oxide catalyst that has both acidic and basic catalytic sites. Acidic catalysts on the particle can convert the free fatty acids to biodiesel while basic catalysts can convert the oils into fuel.
And the particles themselves are environmentally safe because they are made of calcium and sand.
"We're excited about this and so is West Central," Lin said. "This serves as an example of how nanotechnology can be useful for advancing an industry that's not that high-tech. And this allows our students from the Midwest ?some of them from farms ?to learn a new kind of technology that doesn't take them away from home."
Larry Breeding, the general manager of biodiesel operations for the West Central Cooperative, said the technology shows promise for improving the efficiency of biodiesel production. But he said it still needs to be tested at larger and larger scales to see if the economic benefits are there. Tests also need to prove if the technology works in continuous-flow production rather than batch-by-batch production.
"This research is a real boon to us," Breeding said. "We don't have a research campus. So we have to rely on academia and we've leaned on the peop
Source:Iowa State University