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Dr. Nicholas Leadbeater, University of Connecticut - Biodiesel Production


Albany, NY – In today's Academic Minute, Dr. Nicholas Leadbeater of the University of Connecticut discusses how easily biodiesel fuels can be refined from food industry waste.

Nicholas Leadbeater is an associate professor of organic and inorganic chemistry at the University of Connecticut, where he heads the New Synthetic Methods Group. Leadbeater and the NSMG research cleaner and more efficient methods for creating synthetic materials. Dr. Leadbeater holds a Ph.D. from Cambridge University, where he was a research fellow until 1999.

About Dr. Leadbeater

Dr. Nicholas Leadbeater - Biodiesel Production

People are looking for more environmentally friendly fuels to replace those originating from crude oil. If they could be cheaper too then that would be an additional bonus.

One such fuel that has attracted attention is biodiesel. You can use biodiesel in your regular diesel car with little or no modification required. It can also be used as heating oil. Biodiesel is made in a very simple chemical reaction called a transesterification. The starting materials are usually vegetable oil and methanol. A little bit of acid or base is added as a catalyst to make the reaction go. Along with the biodiesel, glycerin is formed as a byproduct and this can be used for other applications.

The fact that vegetable oil is often used as a starting material can be problematic since it directly competes with a feedstock also used for food. However, used vegetable oil can also be converted to biodiesel. That means that you could go to your local restaurant and use their old frying oil to make biodiesel. In collaboration with a company in North Carolina, my research group has done just this, using a microwave oven to speed up the reaction. We could make a lot of biodiesel in a short time. We gave it to our co-workers who used it in their off-road vehicles. Their only complaint was that when it was consumed in engines, the exhaust smelled of French fries and made them hungry.

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