Biodiesel & Algae

Posted in General at 7:02 am by Dennis Brown

My brother-in-law Lee was asking me about algae “farming” for biodiesel production, so I decided to add a few links. Keep in mind, some algae are considered more animal than plant, so maybe the term should be “ranching” or perhaps “algae husbandry”. Anyway, these links were combined into a single post to make it easier to find the data, so here they are:

1. Aquatic Species Program at Wikipedia

2. Algaculture at Wikipedia

3. Growth Media for Algae from the University of Texas

4. Biodiesel page at Wikipedia

5. US Dept. of Energy Report on Algae for Biodiesel (PDF file)

6. From Algae to Biodiesel is a report from students researching the idea.

Of course, there are many more, but these provide a nice starting point. On a personal note, I don’t think that biodiesel from algae is going to solve all the world’s problems, but i *DO* think it offers the highest potential for a suppliment to our exisiting petro diesel infrastructure. This is because algae can produce 5,000 to 20,000 gallons of oil per acre, which is many times more than ANY know plant, and it can be done at different scales, even for someone who wants to “farm” less than an acre.

One of my interests is in finding out how well a diesel generator will run on straight oil from algae, (not converted to biodiesel) or a blend of bio or petro diesel and algae oil. This has the potential to make a tremendous impact not only in major power generation, but for personal power generation as well. The methods for extracting the oil from algae are simple (a press) and growing algae isn’t exactly rocket science, although you do need a proper medium in the water for maximum growth potential. Interesting stuff.

The biggest advantage is that if we tried to make biodiesel from soybeans replace all the gasoline we use in the US, we would have to plant every square mile with soy and still not have enough. They say with algae, it would take 3% of the land mass in the US, which is a bit more realistic. At the very least, it offers the chance to suppliment current fuel, using existing infrastructure, and lets individuals create their own fuel without large tracts of land.



Stupid Media

Posted in General at 4:24 pm by Dennis Brown

Jeez, you would think that the nation’s finest journalists could get it right, especially when it comes the 101s of biodiesel. No wonder people are confused. Let me give you an example from the ABC News website post I just found here. It was written by Becky Worley.

There is a lot of confusion about biodiesel, so here’s the skinny: Biodiesel is a blend of traditional diesel (aka dino-diesel) and vegetable oil.

No, biodiesel is NOT a blend of petro diesel and veggy oil. Go read about transesterification, Becky. She didn’t even mention B5 or B20… blends, so I could tell this was going to be ugly.

You can switch back and forth between biodiesel and regular diesel if you have to. The only difference when using biodiesel is you may have to switch your oil filter more often.

No, you might have to change it ONCE when you switch to biodiesel because it will clean all the garbage left from petro diesel. Once you change to a blend or pure bio, you will probably change it LESS often. Again, she doesn’t understands what biodiesel is, even though she is authoring a report on it. She also didn’t mention potentially longer engine life, but I wouldn’t have expected that since the jury is still somewhat out on that issue. Oh, and you don’t really “switch back” anyway. The engine doesn’t know the difference from petro diesel, biodiesel or a blend.

Some people modify their diesel engines to run a fuel called straight vegetable oil. These are the folks who back up to a McDonald’s and take all its fry grease. SVO and biodiesel are different animals in the same family. Biodiesel is a lot less hassle than running an SVO vehicle.

I wasn’t aware that Mickey D’s was having to put locks on their grease traps, but whatever. SVO and biodiesel are different animals, biodiesel is what you get after you process SVO. I almost fainted when I read the one line that was accidently correct, that it is less hassle to run biodiesel than SVO, although the concept of gel point and such completely escaped her. I don’t think she understands you can take old McGrease, lye and alcohol and make biodiesel either.

She goes on and spews a bunch more of this. (read for yourself) I don’t think she had any malice intended, it just appears she went to a single blog or asked someone waiting for a bus for her entire research. The stuff she got wrong wasn’t even hard to find info for. Any responsible journalist would have done more research before publishing something that was this misleading, even if by accident.


Teeny Reactor Pumps Out Biodiesel

Posted in General at 4:12 pm by Dennis Brown

Wired had previously published an article called Teeny Reactor Pumps Out Biodiesel that I found interesting. It focuses on a new device, the size of a credit card, that pumps vegetable oil and alcohol through tiny parallel channels to covert oil into biodiesel, almost instantly. I have no idea if this is real or fraud at this point as I haven’t been able to find much to corroborate this story. Email me if you have info!

The source of the breakthrough was listed as Oregon Nanoscience and Microtechnologies Institute, although the only decent link I found were on the same server, different location, Here is that page, which contains other links as well. I haven’t exhausted all the links myself. This is probably one of the better pages for broad topics that cover biodiesel, and worth bookmarking.


The Truth About Hydrogen

Posted in General at 3:56 pm by Dennis Brown

Although not about biodiesel, the Popular Mechanics recent article titled The Truth About Hydrogen points out some of the problems and promises that hydrogen offers as potential vehicle fuel. All the more reason we need biodiesel to be a part of the solution, particularly over the next 10 to 20 years. Definately worth a look.



Frequency Converters to change 400hz to 60hz

Posted in General at 8:34 pm by Dennis Brown

First a warning: I am not an expert at frequency conversion. It is only that I know nothing about them in practice that I had to do some research on them, and present it here. You should do your own research before making life and death decisions based on this data. Now, with that said…

A frequency converter is a device that will change the hertz (cycles per second) of electricity to incoming power. Why would you want one? To convert the power from your 400hz aircraft style diesel generator to 60hz, for use to power your home or other equipment. Without a frequency converter, the 400hz output is useless (and will do damage) to electronics and most electrical equipment in your home. Certain electrical devices, such as analog heaters or light bulbs don’t really care what the frequency is, but anything that is electronic, digital or has any moving parts does. This included DVD players, refrigerators and air conditioners, as well as everything else in your home that isn’t a light bulb or passive heat strip.

They are rated according to kva (kilowatt capacity) and by the incoming/outgoing hertz desired. You can calculate what your needs are by using a simple formula: VA / V = A where VA = Volt-ampere (or watts), V = volts and A = amps. For instance, if you want something that will carry a single phase of power at 10 amps, then:

10 amp requirement = voltage (120v) x ($x unknown rating)
$x / 120 = 10
$x = 1200

So you need a unit that is rated at least 1200VA or 1.2kVA.

Inversely, something that is rated for 1kVA (which equals 1000VA) for 240VAC would give you variables:

VA=1000, V=240, A is unknown

So using VA / V = A, you get: 1000 / 240 = 4.166

The result is that a 1kVA unit running at 240VAC can handle a maximum amp load of 4.166. Keep in mind, this is a bit of oversimplification and the actual needs can vary from this formula, but for most simple devices (like a generator, heater or other resistive device) this gives pretty good results. You can read more about it at Wikipedia’s KVA page. Or get a better explanation (but much more technical) at this website.

Companies that sell frequency converters: (these are not sponsors of this site)


As most require a formal request for information before giving you a price, I have no info on the prices of the units for “normal” applications, whatever that means. Make sure whatever you get that it matches the INPUT hertz of your source, the OUTPUT hertz for your needs (likely 60hz) and the VA rating that is equal or greater than your generator, so you don’t melt it.


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