Sunday, June 24, 2007

Making Biodiesel - For Aeroplanes!?

If you're reading this then you are probably making biodiesel at home or at the very least intrested in making and using biodiesel. One area that up until now has seemed largely ignored by the comercial biodiesel producers is aviation. Now the press and the government is starting to show an intrest in how much pollution aircraft cause and contribute to global warming - the dreaded words "carbon footprint" have been heard.

So I did some digging around on the subject and came up with some very interetsing developments at Perdue University:

As a professor in the Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering at Purdue University, Bernie Tao has worked on several experimental projects that challenge biomass parameters.

Over the years, Tao and his students have explored changes in plant microbial behavior to create useful products that people can use. One example is biodegradable plastics made with animal fat. The U.S. government has also asked Tao to look at vegetable oils and soybeans to create renewable products that would replace petroleum, a limited resource. For him, the projects aren't about repeating what scientific advances have already been made, such as renewable fuel, but discovering new products that perhaps no one had thought of before.

"We didn't have any use in making biodiesel fuel because it's pretty simple," Tao said. "But people would approach us and ask, 'What else can you do with this?' So we began to look at what other things you can make with it."

As Tao and his students have proven, the possibilities seem endless.

Getting the most out of biodiesel
The highest value petroleum product in the energy sector is aviation fuel, according to Tao. It differs from ground transportation fuel, and the main challenge is its cold temperature behavior. A biodiesel-fueled car has no problem running in weather 5 or 10 degrees below zero. However, biodiesel in airplane engines would easily crystallize with temperatures in the atmosphere between 40 and 58 degrees below zero. To obtain a more ideal aviation fuel, Tao and his students created an efficient fractionation method for biodiesel, extracting the materials that would quickly freeze in the fuel. Tao's improved biodiesel is being tested in commercial airline engines at Purdue University Airport, where Tao's students measure thrust, emissions and power of various biodiesel blends.

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