Print 19 comment(s) - last by Joanne Ivancic.. on Sep 24 at 2:29 PM

New method could repurpose existing equipment, improve the efficiency of biodiesel extraction

Biodiesel production tends to boil down (no pun intended) to one of two methods -- repurposing waste oil to auto-capable fuel or converting purpose-grown feedstock crops to oily biodiesel.

Ultimately, only the latter method is capable of supporting biodiesel production on a broader scale.  However, production tends to suffer from inefficiency due to inconsistent crop oil content and difficulty optimizing the seed-crushing machinery to deal with each harvest's slightly unique oil composition.

But U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) research arm -- the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) -- has come up with an intuitive solution, repurposing near infrared (NIR) reflectance spectroscopy equipment -- a type of chemical measurement device -- to test the oil within seeds within an error of 0.5 to 0.73 percent.

Canola seed
Canola seed [Image Source: Wild Bird General Store]

NIR devices are plentiful, as they've widely been used over the past 30 years in the food industry to measure protein, moisture, and oil levels in whole grain food crops.

The USDA's tests focused on canola -- one flowering plant with oil seeds that's being considered as a biodiesel feedstock candidate.  The 226 canola samples in the study came from Oregon, Washington state, and Montana.  The NIR test equipment was housed at the Columbia Plateau Conservation Research Center in Pendleton, Ore.

The team says that if seed-crushing facilities are equipped with NIR sensors, each harvest can be measured, allowing workers to adjust the choke setting (the opening the oil comes out of) [source] to account for a longer (for less oily seeds) or shorter (for oilier seeds) grinding process.

Canola field
A growing canola crop [Matt Lavin/Image Source: Montana State Univ.]

This would allow more oil to be extracted from less oily crops, lowering costs and reducing land use.  While a very valid field of research, the economic future of biodiesel remains in question given the costs, and questions of engine damage.

Research leader Dan Long and his team published their findings in the peer-reviewed Journal of Near Infrared Spectroscopy.

Source: ARS [USDA research]

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How about.....
By GotThumbs on 9/21/2012 3:52:19 PM , Rating: 3
....the millions of gallons of used cooking oil by product from the thousands of restaurants?

One product (cooking oil)....two uses (cook and power diesel engine) equals a no brainer IMO.

Bio-Diesel processed from used cooking oil should be prioritized to all the trucks transporting goods on the highways....and the all the city buses.

RE: How about.....
By dgingerich on 9/21/2012 7:05:16 PM , Rating: 2
There's not enough waste oil to fill the needs of biodiesel manufacturers or the wide market.

RE: How about.....
By Solandri on 9/22/2012 3:26:47 PM , Rating: 3
The U.S. burns about 175 million gallons of diesel per day. All the used cooking oil in the country is literally a drop in the bucket. Maybe if the average person produced a half gallon of waste cooking oil per day, it would make a difference.

RE: How about.....
By nocturne_81 on 9/21/2012 8:03:19 PM , Rating: 2
What do you think the first line of the article was referring to as 'waste oil'..?

Did you know that canola oil is cooking oil..? All the article is about is basically a more efficient method of producing just that.

RE: How about.....
By Zoomer on 9/23/2012 12:23:53 AM , Rating: 2
It could lower the net cost of the oil, allowing it to be changed more frequently.

By KingofL337 on 9/21/2012 5:22:20 PM , Rating: 2
What happened to algae for creating biofuel? Is it not feasible or being blocked by farmers looking to raise the price on corn?

RE: Algae?
By dgingerich on 9/21/2012 7:09:20 PM , Rating: 2
It's still in research. There's a couple small companies trying to make it work right near me, in Colorado. (Probably operating off Government grants.) It's not quite ready for prime time yet, but they're getting close.

Honestly, I would love it if it would work. I would even pay a mild premium for renewable fuels. It's just not financially feasible yet. The US Government forcing it isn't going to make it work faster, it will only slow down the economy and waste a lot of money.

RE: Algae?
By Ringold on 9/21/2012 8:14:02 PM , Rating: 2
There's a pretty big facility gearing up in New Mexico somewhere too; thought I read about it here at DT recently, might've been elsewhere.

Of course, even a "pretty big" facility for this industry could probably only stock a handful of truck stops.

But I do think algae-based techniques are the only rational ways to get to a biofuel future. Burning edible crops is absolute insanity; I think future generations will look at American ethanol mandates the way we look at Roman elites using feathers between courses at feasts to make room for the next round. Pure hedonistic waste, simply to satisfy our own corrupt political whimsies, which only hurts the average person.

RE: Algae?
By FITCamaro on 9/23/2012 4:45:16 PM , Rating: 2
Agreed. I think with research, we'll eventually be able to grow all the biodiesel we need from algae. Hence why I think electric cars which just go from one not as rare resource (oil) to a multitude of extremely rare resources are a bad idea. Never mind they don't meet the needs of most Americans. And require a massive retooling of infrastructure around the country to be viable even if they did go an appreciable distance at a decent price and could be recharged quickly.

RE: Algae?
By RU482 on 9/22/2012 12:37:26 PM , Rating: 2
make up your mind! do you want the government investing in science, making the previously impossible/impractical more feasible, or do you want to pout about government spending?

By bobsmith1492 on 9/22/2012 9:45:03 AM , Rating: 3
Rapeseed is a beautiful crop. Great picture!

RE: Rapeseed
By superstition on 9/23/2012 1:04:07 AM , Rating: 2
"Monocultures aren't so beautiful." – nature

RE: Rapeseed
By protosv on 9/23/2012 10:26:01 AM , Rating: 2
I thought rapeseed is what they used to make "vegetable" oil?

RE: Rapeseed
By iamkyle on 9/23/2012 7:06:17 PM , Rating: 2
Rapeseed - the most feminine unfriendly plant!

By dgingerich on 9/21/2012 2:45:30 PM , Rating: 2
This is something that needs to happen before the technology is wisely adopted.

Law of conservation of...
By superstition on 9/23/2012 1:00:25 AM , Rating: 2
Soil depletion is something that people seem content to ignore. Oil is crop biomass. That biomass comes from the soil. Where does it go?

Up in smoke.

Let's burn away our soils. That's the ticket.

Let's dump more chemicals into our water supplies while we're at it.

Cooking Oil
By btc909 on 9/24/2012 1:16:20 AM , Rating: 2
Cooking Oil usually ends up in the home brew crowd who made a deal with a restaurant owner.

By Joanne Ivancic on 9/24/2012 2:29:39 PM , Rating: 2
From the comments, it seems that there are many questions about what's happening with algae for biofuels--and where; use of waste, including cooking oil for biofuels; and about sustainable development of renewable liquid transportation fuels in general. I suggest that you visit, a nonprofit education organization with a world-wide audience that has over 9000 posts that address these and other related questions.

Ive got 3 words for ya
By shin0bi272 on 9/24/12, Rating: 0
"We basically took a look at this situation and said, this is bullshit." -- Newegg Chief Legal Officer Lee Cheng's take on patent troll Soverain

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