Monday, November 8, 2010: 4:05 PM
251 A Room (Salt Palace Convention Center)
Alternatives to petroleum-based fuels must be commercialized to ensure our nation's energy security, but profitable, clean, carbon-neutral energy sources have proven difficult to develop. Key stumbling blocks for a variety of promising technologies have included high capital costs, lack of appropriate infrastructure, and technical approaches that are in themselves energy intensive. We propose using microfluidics-based technology that uniquely addresses these issues. The combination of microfluidics and heterogeneous catalysis allows for the production of biodiesel fuels at relatively low temperature and pressure. Heterogeneous catalysis enables greatly increased product purity relative to conventional approaches and permits the use of lower quality, lower cost feedstocks. We have successfully converted various oils to biodiesel, including soybean oil, other vegetable oils, algae oil, oil/free fatty acid mixtures and 99% pure free fatty acids. These results were achieved using inexpensive, readily available metal and metal oxide catalysts. Micro scale reactors are used to reduce processing times from hours to seconds. Numerical simulations using CFD-ACE+ software show that processing times can be less than 1 second for channels with cross-sections on the order of 100 microns x 100 microns. The real-world application of this disruptive technology would be a biodiesel production plant the size of a typical desktop computer tower capable of producing 500-1000 liters of biodiesel per week. These devices would be operated by small businesses throughout the country. This distributed production model will provide 10% of the liquid fuel needs of the country while reducing oil imports and carbon dioxide emissions by 10%.