Biodiesel Cooperative Vapor Characterization

Project Size: Large, >$1,000
Estimated Amount to be requested from the CSF: $1,620

Letter of Intent:

The Biodiesel Cooperative is seeking funds to perform a vapor characterization analysis to determine the quantity of methanol vapor released from the Biodiesel Cooperative’s production process. Characterizing the vapors released from the reactor is important, because the biodiesel conversion involves methanol. Methanol can cause health effects when inhaled. The OSHA permissible exposure limit for methanol vapor exposure is a time-weighted average of 200ppm over an 8-hour period. The Cooperative uses liquid methanol, but since the reactor is heated during the conversion some of the methanol may vaporize during reaction. It is important to know if any of this vaporized methanols is released, because it could have health effects. The Cooperative will also be determining the flammability risk with the vapor. This research has impacts that are potentially broader than just the Cooperative. The vapors released from small-scale biodiesel reactors have not been well characterized. The vapor characterization will help to keep small-scale biodiesel producers like the Cooperative safe. The characterization will be performed in a temporary lab space allocated to the Cooperative by Engineering Facilities Services for the purpose of the vapor characterization. This project will be done in cooperation with Environmental Health and Safety (EH&S). The ultimate goal of the project is to determine the Cooperative’s lab requirements. Once EH&S agrees to the lab requirements, the Cooperative will be able to find a lab space that meets the Cooperative’s long term needs and insures its viability. The Cooperative will be in a much stronger position to fulfill its main goals after this characterization is complete. It will be able to begin to educate individuals in a small-scale alternative energy production, while also increase sustainability on campus by repurposing a waste stream into fuel for on-campus vehicles.

The Cooperative helps students gain both engineering and business experience through operating a small-scale biodiesel plant. On the business side this experience stems from satisfying stakeholders, performing outreach, and managing the Cooperative’s financials. On the engineering side this experience involves process improvements, plant operation and research. The cooperative also provides mentorship opportunities for students in the form of more experienced students and industry professionals. The Cooperative works with its mentors and stakeholders to educate the community about alternative energy. Since its founding last December the Cooperative has participated in several on campus outreach events. These included Engineering Discovery Days in Spring 2011, the ENGAGE event the day before the SEBA sponsored Autumn Science and Engineering Career Fair and the Sustainability Summit this October.

Student volunteer opportunities of this project can be divided into two categories: logistics and engineering. Each of these leaders is currently involved in the vapor characterization project. There will be further opportunities for student involvement for more junior members. These junior members will help to implement the project and work directly under one of the project leaders on specific tasks, such as running the reactor or helping to write grants for the project.

Primary Contact First & Last Name: Kathryn Cogert