Bio-diesel from waste cooking oil

RENEWABLE ENERGY

Did you ever imagine that the vegetable cooking oil you have been using to prepare delicious dishes can produce bio-diesel too?

Surprisingly, this is not a path-breaking discovery as over the centuries scientists have done several researches on the subject. They have been successful in converting oil into a diesel-like substitute but the science has failed to gain a full-fledged practical approach.

Indeed, if this technology comes into the real world scenario, then the burden on petrol and diesel can be easily reduced. We will be using environment-friendly product and above all, sources of renewable energy would be safeguarded.

Focusing on this concept, students of Indian Institute of Technology-Delhi have prepared a prototype of a machine that can easily convert cooking oil into biodiesel.

Mohit Soni, Harshit Agarwal and Abhishekh Kumar Sharma, third year students of chemical engineering, are busy these days getting this prototype installed in hotels, to study its practical application.

“It is not a new concept. Over the years, extensive research has been done on the conversion methodology but little has been done on the technological front,” says Mohit Soni, emphasising that ‘conversion of science into technology is sparse in terms of biodiesel’.

The youngsters began their research in January 2014 as part of their design practical. “It took us about four months to build a technology. We used waste cooking oil from hostel mess and college canteen for our project,” he says.

“There is a need to understand the nature of the production scheme of biodiesel. Its raw material is generally distributed, e.g. waste cooking oil is found in small quantities at various households, restaurants etc. True, each of the sources is producing a small amount of the oil, but collectively a large number of sources exist, which can lead to cumulatively substantial amount of oil stock for potential biodiesel production,”
says Soni.

According to him the problem cannot be tackled in a conventional centralised manner. A large-scale plant can be set up where all the feedstock is expected to be collected for biodiesel production. “In terms of logistics, emissions cost and investment, decentralised strategy stands out. So, it was important for us to derive a methodology with cost analysis estimate.”

But it was the second phase of the project which they decided to work upon after their project won the first prize at the annual open house of IIT-Delhi, an event where students from different departments display their projects.

“The question was to tap places from where we can get maximum waste cooking oil. For this, nothing could have been better than hotels. Generally, many restaurants sell their waste oil to roadside vendors. But we don’t realise that when vegetable oil is heated repeatedly beyond a limited temperature it becomes carcinogenic,” says Soni, whose main aim is to break this cycle of distribution of waste cooking oil.

“Placing a small scale integrated unit at the source itself, like hotels, we can harness biodiesel and reduce pressure on conventional petro-diesel resources. The produced biodiesel can be used by hotels for generators, cars and other machines,” says Soni.

Through their devised technology they want to touch rural areas too, where biodiesel can be used to produce electricity. “Despite having immense potential as a biodiesel producer, India contributes a mere 0.1 per cent to the global biodiesel production. Add to that, demand for diesel is five times more than that of petrol. So, if we use oilseeds (like jathropha) in place of cooking oil, then also we can produce biodiesel,” he says.

The trio want their project to be patented after having won the ‘GE Edison Challenge’ held in Bangalore recently. They have even received funding from different corporates as well for further research in the project.

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