University pioneers biodiesel research

Tess Langfus

The grease saturating McDonald’s french fries might benefit not only the environment but also diesel owners, according to University research.
Under the guidance of Max Norris, senior scientist and intellectual-property director at the Agricultural Utilization Research Institute in Marshall, Minn., scientists are examining waste greases that come out of households and restaurants as a possible additive to soybean-based biodiesel fuel, or B20.
The University’s Mechanical Engineering Department is working in conjunction with the institute.
B20 is manufactured by combining 20 percent renewable oils and 80 percent petroleum.
“In looking at the amount of oil that is in reserve across the nation, AURI is certainly looking at ways to apply that oil in a higher value opportunity. And biodiesel certainly is one of them,” Norris said.
Since it is made mostly from renewable products, biodiesel fuel is a favorable alternative to petroleum. Oils from soybeans and fats from animals are constantly produced in the United States, while petroleum and other natural gases and oils have a finite supply.
“We burn a barrel of oil, it’s gone. We can’t replace that. But if we burn a barrel of biodiesel, we can replace it just by growing more soybeans,” said Ken Bickel, research fellow at the University’s Center for Diesel Research.
There is also the opportunity to reuse greases from animal fat that are typically discarded by restaurants.
But B20, made with soybean oil, costs 5 to 8 cents more per gallon than regular diesel fuel. AURI is researching whether turning animal waste greases into diesel fuel will be less costly while maintaining the benefits of B20.
The new fuel will combine animal waste greases, soybean oils and regular petroleum.
Bickel will test the new B20 product later this summer. Using an instrument-controlled engine to simulate various conditions, he and other researchers will conduct engine performance evaluations measuring such things as tailpipe emissions and the responsiveness of the engine to the fuel.
If the emission tests on the new fuel are as promising as with the B20 made from a combination of soybean oils and petroleum, there will be a “very large environment-positive impact,” Norris said.
The soy-based B20 fuel tested earlier on diesel engines emitted 50 to 90 percent less gaseous ignitions and pollutants like carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxides than regular petroleum diesel fuel, Norris said.
“It’s a cleaner burning fuel. That’s one of its biggest advantages,” Bickel said.
While biodiesel fuel might not be the answer to the high fuel prices today, researchers and farmers agree that it is a start.
“Now it’s just convincing the public that this is good for the environment, this is good for the agriculture,” said Mike Youngerberg of the Minnesota’s Soybean Growers and Research and Promotion Council.
With more than 31,000 Minnesota farmers producing the crop, Youngerberg said farmers and some legislators are trying to promote the use of biodiesel fuel.
A bill that will be introduced during the state Senate proposes that by 2002, “all diesel fuel sold or offered for sale in Minnesota must contain at least 5 percent biodiesel fuel oil by weight.”
Roger Dale, a soybean farmer in Hanley Falls, Minn., said: “It’s a win-win situation as far as I’m concerned, because it’s helping the farmer by using our product, and with this high-priced petroleum right now, it’s crazy that everybody doesn’t use it.”

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