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Biofuel reactor makes greener fuel
By Lesley Covington
With rising fuel prices, greenhouse gases and America’s dependency on foreign oil, scientists have been hard at work developing a way to utilize our natural resources more efficiently, and UNCP is doing its part as well.
UNCP’s biofuel reactor arrived on campus March 27, providing a new opportunity for students to engage in research.
Associate Professor Dr. Thomas Dooling and Associate Professor Dr. Sivanadane Mandjiny from the Chemistry and Physics Department, along with Assistant Professor Dr. Maria Pereira from the Biology Department were three of the professors trained to produce Biofuels.
Working in conjuction with these professors was Building and Environmental Supervisor of the Physical Plant Doug Hammonds.
The reactor is constructed using parts from a now-closed pharmaceutical company in North Carolina, said David Thornton from Piedmont Biofuels. The total cost of equipment, assembly and training for the reactor is about $20,000.
“Using waste oils is the way to go,” Thornton said.
Waste vegetable oil creates the most efficient production process to date, according to Thornton.
The oil may be collect-ed from food service businesses like Sodexho, McDonald’s and Chinese restaurants. Waste vegetable oil generally has a deep-fat fryer aroma.
“We also collect from a cosmetics company, Burt’s Bees,” Thornton said. “It has a better smell, like perfume.”
Biofuel production is much safer than dealing with gasoline, Dooling said.
“It (biofuel) has a higher ignition point,” he said. “It takes a hotter spark to ignite.”
Biofuel is designed to work in diesel engines. It can be used in its purest form, but the engine must have never used diesel before, according to Dr. Mandjiny.
Biofuel works better in diesel engines when it is blended with petroleum diesel, Dr. Pereira said.
A B80 blend (80 percent biofuel to 20 percent diesel) is recommended.
“We are really excited to get the reactor here,” Dr. Mandjiny said. “We are going to educate the students in research. It’s a very unique experience for them.”
Dr. Dooling agreed.
“Certainly I think students could do it without any problem,” he said. “I learned that it’s not a very difficult or a very complex process.”
The main thing, he said, is that specific steps need to be done in their proper order.
According to Dr. Pereira, each batch of waste vegetable oil will produce 45 gallons of Biodiesel. “Our goal is to prove that we’re able to make the fuel for cheaper than we would buy it,” Dr. Dooling said.“I think we understand now how to operate the device.”
Provost Charles F. Harrington said, “It represents a tremendous opportunity for students to be involved in this emerging program. It will also allow students to continue to work alongside faculty on applied research projects and will have an immediate impact on the university and the community, as it strives to become a greener campus.”
Executive Editor Scott Ammons also contributed to this story.