07 Aug MATC bio-diesel reactor to support training
Madison, Wis. – Madison Area Technical College‘s new biodiesel reactor will not only produce clean fuel, it will help educate the technicians that will be entrusted with maintaining and improving the emerging technology.
The reactor, developed as part of a joint project between MATC and the University of Wisconsin-Madison, purifies cooking oil recovered from a restaurant’s deep fryer and blends it into methanol to create motor fuel. Built by UW-Madison engineering students at the request of MATC’s two-year Diesel Equipment Technology associate degree program, the laboratory-scale device will be used to educate MATC students in the production, use, and quality control of biodiesel fuels and the maintenance of biodiesel-fueled engines.
“The goal is for students to synthesize and study various biodiesel fuel blends,” said Ken Walz, MATC chemistry instructor and project director, in a release. “The reactor will allow students to experiment with different feedstocks, catalysts, and processing temperatures to optimize biodiesel production.
“Students will then characterize the fuel that they produce, to measure various properties such as specific gravity, viscosity, flash point, and oxidative stability.”
The reactor will allow for fueling of stationary diesel engines monitored by MATC students with oil sampling, five gas emissions tests, and periodic engine wear checks in accordance with industry standard practices.
Biodiesel fuel, made by removing glycerin from vegetable oil or animal fat, offers an environmentally friendly alternative to diesel gasoline because combustion of the fuel does not produce carbon dioxide. The fuel can operate diesel-powered engines without the need for engine modifications.
The reactor project was devised by MATC’s Consortium for Education in Renewable Energy Technologies, a National Science Foundation-funded initiative to develop curriculum for renewable energy instruction in colleges and high schools, and to provide hands-on renewable energy workforce training.
UW-Madison is involved in research on numerous bioenergy and alternative fuel projects. More than 100 engines on campus have been using a B20 biodiesel blend since January 2005.
The joint reactor project was a truly collaborative effort. Instructors from MATC and UW-Madison began talking about it a year-and-a-half ago and after six months, students from both institutions were hard at work.
A group of freshman UW-Madison students, taking a course on interdisciplinary engineering with UW-Madison Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering professor Marc Anderson, began designing the reactor in September. The students gathered information for constructing an instructional reactor with built-in safety functions capable of collecting data monitoring reactions. They then used computer-aided drafting for developing blueprints and researched pricing and availability information for parts.
After a day in the MATC laboratories learning about engines from diesel equipment instructors and how to make the fuel from chemistry professors, the students began another phase of training. Back at UW-Madison, the engineering students hosted a group of MATC students sent to teach them how to physically build an engine – welding parts and threading and fitting pipes.
“There was one UW student who had never used a drill before and by the end of the project she was welding steel,” Walz said. “She was real excited. She said, ‘I called my dad and told him I learned how to use a MIG welder!’”
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