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A Computer-Controlled Biodiesel Experiment

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2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Atlanta, Georgia

Publication Date

June 23, 2013

Start Date

June 23, 2013

End Date

June 26, 2013



Conference Session

Chemical Engineering Poster Session & Unit Operations Lab Bazaar

Tagged Division

Chemical Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

23.34.1 - 23.34.13



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Paper Authors


William M. Clark Worcester Polytechnic Institute

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William Clark is an associate professor in the Chemical Engineering Department at Worcester Polytechnic Institute. He holds a B.S. from Clemson University and a Ph.D. from Rice University, both in Chemical Engineering. He has taught thermodynamics, separation processes, and unit operations laboratory for over 25 years. In addition to research efforts in teaching and learning, he has conducted disciplinary research in separation processes.

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Nicholas Janeiro Medeiros Worcester Polytechnic Institute

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Donal James Boyd

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Jared Snell WPI

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Lucas J Brutvan Worcester Polytechnic Institute

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A Computer Controlled Biodiesel ExperimentIn this poster we describe a new computer controlled, base catalyzed transesterificationexperiment to produce biodiesel from vegetable oil that we have implemented in our unitoperations laboratory. In addition to being of more interest to our students than some of ourother experiments and allowing them to study the temperature and mass transfer effects on thekinetics of an industrial reaction, this experiment offers us a chance to reinforce safety conceptsand provide experience with standard operating procedures and electronic batch records.We have converted a 5 ft wide fume hood into a mini biodiesel pilot plant. A computercontrolled reactor system was purchased from Syrris, Inc and consists of a 250 ml jacketed glasscatalyst preparation reactor and a 500 ml jacketed glass process reactor connected to feed andproduct vessels and each other via peristaltic pumps. Sparkless and brushless overheadelectronic stirrers are used to control and monitor the stirrer rpms and torque in each reactor. Aconstant temperature is maintained with a separate temperature bath circulating water throughthe jacket of each reactor. A third circulating temperature bath is used to circulate chilled waterthrough condensers attached to each reactor vessel to minimize evaporation losses at elevatedprocess temperatures. Using a computer control panel outside of the hood to operate the processgives it the feel of a larger scale industrial process and minimizes some of the dangers from thehazardous and flammable materials involved.For a typical experiment, methanol and vegetable oil are introduced into the catalyst prep reactorand process reactor, respectively, by computer controlled gravimetric dosing from feed vesselson electronic balances working together with the peristaltic pumps. Once both reactors reach thetarget temperature, solid KOH catalyst is manually added and dissolved in the catalyst prepreactor. The process reaction is initiated by pumping the contents of the catalyst prep reactorinto the process reactor. Samples are withdrawn from the process reactor at regular intervals andanalyzed for glycerol content via an enzymatic assay to follow the reaction progress. At the endof the experiment all samples can be analyzed at once using a 96 well plate reader at awavelength of 570 nm. The reactor system is washed with acetone and allowed to air drybetween experimental runs. The ReactorMaster software from Syrris that controls the processalso collects data on each piece of equipment, allows for pauses to insert comments, andeffectively keeps an electronic batch record of everything that happens in each experimental run.Students will be required to input comments into the batch record indicating that they have eitherperformed or witnessed various aspects of the standard operating procedure as is often requiredin the bioprocess industry.The poster will present an assessment of how our initial implementation of the new reactorexperiment and the associated exposure to serious safety precautions, standard operatingprocedures, and electronic batch records are received by our students.

Clark, W. M., & Medeiros, N. J., & Boyd, D. J., & Snell, J., & Brutvan, L. J. (2013, June), A Computer-Controlled Biodiesel Experiment Paper presented at 2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Atlanta, Georgia. 10.18260/1-2--19048

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