Magazine article Science News

Diesel Prescriptions: Eat Some Veggies

Magazine article Science News

Diesel Prescriptions: Eat Some Veggies

Article excerpt

Diesel prescriptions: Eat some veggies ...

U.S. diesel engines consume about 30 billion gallons of fuel each year, driving everything from tractors and trains to long-distance trucks, industrial processes and power plants. Currently, a petroleum distillate fuels them. But as domestic petroleum stocks dwindle, interest is building in potential alternatives that might sever the diesel's dependence on oil. Among some promising candidates are alcohol-modified "vegetable oils."

Engineers at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign have been working with oils from corn, peanuts, castor, cottonseed, crambe, linseed, soybeans, rapeseed, sunflowers, sesame and safflower. To date, their most promising cocktail is a microemulsion of ethanol, soybean oil and a touch of detergent. The concoction can accept up to 40 percent alcohol and perform well, says mechanical engineer Lester Savage. And by "cracking" the soybean oil--heating it until it begins to break down -- then adding a little anhydrous ammonia, the researchers can essentially "build in" the detergent needed to stabilize the microemulsion. At this point, Savage says, all it takes is some still-grade (150-proof) ethanol to make a fuel. This raises the possibility that many farmers could become energy-self-sufficient.

A second approach is to mix an alcohol--ethanol, propanol or methanol--with an oil and dessicant to form an ester. At Illinois, Carroll E. Goering has successfully run tractor field tests with 2,000 gallons of soybean-oil ester. Its main drawback is cost. Unlike the microemulsion fuel--which researchers say might be developed for $1. …

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