This blog is my attempt to reconnect with the world of chemistry. I have a PhD in Inorganic Chemistry and make a living doing research for a large company in Michigan. As times have changed, that company has changed its focus and I no longer have as much chance to do the basic, fundamental research which I most enjoy. Through this blog, I am hoping to recapture the magic which I felt during my graduate (and undergraduate) days in college. Expect topics on chemistry and alchemy along with some non-chemistry related items which I think might be interesting.

"The chymists are a strange class of mortals, impelled by an almost insane impulse to seek their pleasure among smoke and vapour, soot and flame, poisons and poverty; yet among all these evils I seem to live so sweetly that may I die if I would change places with the Persian King."

Johann Joachim Becher (phlogistonist)
Acta Laboratorii Chymica Monacensis, seu Physica Subterranea, (1669).

Friday, January 25, 2008

Biodiesel, the new weight loss program

I’m not quite sure why, but the vast majority of chemistry blogs I’ve discovered so far are being written by organic chemists. Perhaps they have too much time on their hands or maybe Inorganic chemists have nothing to say. In any case, since I am an Inorganic chemist, you will find most of my posts will deal with Inorganic chemistry. This post, however, is an exception.

Biodiesel has been in the news lately, billed both as a greener fuel and as a way of lessening our dependence on foreign oil. Unlike biofuel, which is a general catch-all term (ethanol, methanol, etc.), biodiesel is a very specific set of compounds. Biodiesel fuel is produced by the transesterification of various (usually vegetable) oils, typically with methanol.

After removing the glycerol, unreacted fatty acid, and left-over alcohol, the methyl ester is ready for use in a diesel engine, although some engine modification may be necessary for optimal operation. For practical reasons, pure biodiesel is rarely used in vehicles. Usually it is mixed with diesel fuel, with the most common blend being a 20% biodiesel – 80% diesel mixture, referred to as B20. Despite all the hype, not all is perfect in biodiesel land. Fail to remove some of the reaction byproducts and you’ll eventually clog your fuel lines. And depending upon the choice of crop grown and manufacturing methods used to generate the methyl esters, the carbon footprint of biodiesel may not be all that much better than fossil fuels. Anyway, our governor here in Michigan has declared that biodiesel fuel is our future and who am I to argue?

Why am I talking about biodiesel now? The Daily Mail has an article describing a biodiesel fueled boat to be used in an attempt to set a new world speed record. Apparently, the boat’s skipper underwent liposuction to remove some of his fat for conversion into biodiesel in order to help fuel his boat. Is this guy green or what?


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Runer said...

I think biodiesel is a new technology...But now biodiesel can made by physical process like thermo cracking. But this way is need much energy...

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