Converting waste vegetable oil into a useful energy source

A researcher in environmental engineering at Staffordshire University has developed a technique to convert unwanted cooking oil into a ‘biodiesel’ which is a much cleaner alternative to fossil diesel.

Dr Tarik Al-Shemmeri, a Reader in Environmental Engineering at Staffordshire University, uses discarded vegetable oil as the basis of his sustainable fuel which, when burnt, DOES NOT
give off sulphur dioxide, unlike conventional diesel.

Sulphur dioxide contributes to what has been dubbed ‘acid rain’ and is among the world’s worst polluting agents and is blamed for attacking buildings in big cities.

The biodiesel also finds a new use for the vast amounts of unwanted cooking oil endlessly produced by restaurants and hotels around the world. If not properly disposed off used cooking oil can pollute agriculture land and waterways.

Dr Al-Shemmeri explained: “Biodiesel is produced from vegetable oils in a process known as esterification. This process, which uses alcohol and gentle heating, converts vegetable oils into separate ‘esters’ or compounds such as biodiesel, glycerine and some traces of water.

“Each ester chain usually contains 18 carbon atoms and it retains two oxygen atoms; this gives the product its unique combustion qualities.”

Dr Al-Shemmeri believes one of the best applications for the biodiesel is to fuel small power generators which create heat and electricity for small and rural communities around the world.

“This fuel would be ideal for use in conventional diesel-powered generators which typically supply electricity to villages in parts of Africa or Asia. By collecting unwanted cooking oil villagers can access a reliable and cheap fuel.”

Dr Al-Shemmeri has has been pleased with the results of experiments using the biodiesel in a 10 kilowatt diesel engine mounted on a test bed at his laboratory in the University’s School of Engineering and Advanced Technology.

He will present his findings this week to the 37th International Universities Power Engineering Conference (UPEC 2002). Energy experts from around the globe are attending this prestigious forum, representing 36 countries from five continents.

The three-day conference will be covering a range of subjects, including power generation, renewable energy sources, and ways to operate, control and protect power systems.

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