Automating the process of producing biodiesel was a challenge for researchers at the University of Central Florida’s School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. Engineers at Cambridge Viscosity by PAC implemented an in-line viscometer to help the researchers reach their goal of an efficient way to produce biodiesel.
To produce biodiesel, oil is mixed with alcohol to produce fatty acid methyl esters. The reaction, known as transeterfication, produces glycerol as a waste by-product. The viscosity of the glycerol is a key parameter, as high viscosity content can lead to potential problems such as clogged fuel filters or fuel pressure drops.
The researchers used a Cambridge Viscosity VISCOpro 1600 viscometer to monitor the viscosity of the glycerol by-product. Using potassium hydroxide as the catalyst for the transeterfication process, the team removed the glycerol by-product that sank to the bottom of the mixing chamber and routed it through pipes leading to the viscometer.
If the glycerol’s viscosity reading was more than 6 mPas, the glycerol was directed to a waste container. After washing the biodiesel, the wastewater was also directed to the viscometer, and if viscosity was lower than 3 mPas, was discarded.
University researcher Kevin Brachle said the viscometer was simple to operate and produced accurate results. “The digital measurements we obtained from the VISCOpro were easy to integrate with our microcontroller and allowed us to determine if the biodiesel was on target. By monitoring the viscosity of the glycerol we were able to consistently produce quality biodiesel fuel,” says Brachle.
“By using the Cambridge viscometer, Kevin has provided the research team with the data required to tune their process while minimizing human exposure to hazardous chemicals,” says PAC Process Analytics Product Manager Jonathan Cole.