Discovery News reports that researchers at the University of Missouri’s Agricultural Engineering department are using ultrasounds to speed up the production process from several hours to just a few minutes:
[Assistant Professor Bulent] Koc, an agricultural and biological engineer, had used ultrasound technology as part of his research in the past to look at different properties of food. For example, he figured out concentrations of alcohol in wine by measuring the velocity of the sound waves within the wine and how long they took to bounce back. When he came to the University of Missouri, the agricultural engineering department required him to focus on energy rather than food, so he applied it to biofuel production.
The ultrasonic wave process works like this: a desktop computer-sized device, known as an ultrasound generator, drives an ultrasound transducer, the machine that makes ultrasonic waves pass through a mixture of methanol and vegetable oil. These waves heat the mixture of oil and alcohol, creating bubbles that eventually burst. The bursts release high pressure and temperature, which break the molecular bonds in the fluids, allowing the two liquids to mix at a much faster pace. After the molecular bonds break, the fatty acids release, producing the by-product glycerin, and the remaining molecules recombine into a biodiesel.
“We wanted to see the effects of ultrasonic energy on glycerin separation time, that means reducing the production time of biodiesel.
Unlike the conventional process that takes an hour to produce a few milliliters, this process takes just five minutes to make about the same amount.
And since time is money, the less time biodiesel makers spend brewing the green fuel, the more money they’ll be able to make.