Washington, Apr 27 : Engineering students at Rowan University (Glassboro, N.J.) are looking at prospects of creating biodiesel out of various household cooking oils.
Dr. Stephanie Farrell, associate professor of chemical engineering said that the research team is looking forward to use different oils in order to observe differences in processing behavior and in the final fuel products obtained from them.
"We are using different oils in order to observe differences in processing behavior and in the final fuel products obtained from them," Farrell said.
Students are studying canola, peanut, soybean, olive and corn oils in addition to waste vegetable oil obtained from local restaurants.
"The idea here is to study an engineering concept while relating it to the real-world issue of easing the demand on petroleum reserves," Farrell said.
In five teams of four members each, students are challenged to run a reaction followed by a series of separation and purification steps, washing the oil with water until it is useable.
"At this stage, the biodiesel fuel has separated from the glycerin by-product after the reaction. The biodiesel could be used for some applications, such as heating, but requires further purification for use in an engine," Farrell said.
Students must run and pass basic tests for quality to see that the oil product is engine-ready. They test the levels of pH, viscosity, water content, glycerin content, specific gravity and sodium hydroxide levels. Along with these, students also test for cloud point and gel point.
Cloud point is the chilled temperature at which the fuel becomes cloudy, and gel point is the temperature at which the oil turns to a gel. Both tests reveal how well the fuel will perform under certain conditions. These tests are vital for use in an engine.
Most of the groups have passed these tests and are ready to use their oil products in an engine. The teams will use their oils in a generator and determine how well it performs.
"It would be ideal to run engines on waste oil, for example the oil used in deep fryers that is thrown away. An extremely hopeful scenario would be one where we devise a system to run the bus to and from the new South Jersey Technology Park, about a mile from campus, off of waste oils like these. It's an ambitious dream, but it'd be a great outcome," Farrell said.