Biodiesel may have just become a whole lot more practical. According to a recent story, the notoriously difficult-to-use fuel has just been dramatically improved upon by a renowned chemist and his dedicated students.
Lukas Goossen, a chemistry professor, and longtime biofuel enthusiast was visiting an installation that produces biodiesel in Rwanda. Suddenly, he was hit with a stroke of inspiration on how to produce a biofuel that might work in all diesel engines without gumming them up in the way that biofuels are so prone to do.
Biofuels and biodiesel, in particular, have long suffered from multiple problems. While most diesel engines can run a wide range of biofuels, including vegetable lard taken straight out of deep fryers, serious problems begin to emerge with long-term use. The engine components wear much faster than with normal diesel fuel. And parts such as fuel injectors can become quickly unusable within just a few hundred miles of switching to biofuels. All of this adds up to low long-term practicality.
However, Goossen discovered a way to make biofuels far more similar to regular diesel. One of the problems with refined biofuels has long been that all of the fuel tends to boil at one temperature. With regular diesel fuel, the size of the carbon molecules that make up the fuel is randomly distributed. Because large molecules tend to boil at much higher temperatures than small molecules, this means that different parts of the fuel boil at different temperatures. Such a characteristic prevents the fuel from completely boiling over once a certain temperature is reached.
However, with biofuels, the molecules all tend to be of the same size. This means that once the fuel’s boiling point is reached, performance becomes severely degraded and the engine is at high risk of incurring damage.
Goossen has managed to solve this problem through a chemical process that he developed, which cuts the large carbon-based molecules in biofuel into smaller entities, then randomly reassembles them into different sizes. This mimics the molecular properties of regular diesel. And it makes the use of biodiesel viable over the long term, without causing severe damage to the engine.
Although the details of Goossen’s new fuel are still being worked out, he believes that it will be marketable on a large scale in the years to come.