Nanotechnology is all the rage these days: we've already told you of several projects underwaythat are employing this budding technology to curb greenhouse gas emissions by improving fuel efficiency and energy technologies such as photovoltaics and electricity storage (amongst others). Victor Lin, a professor of chemistry at Iowa State University and a program director for the U.S. Department of Energy's Ames Laboratory, has just invented a nanosphere-based catalyst that may help revolutionize the production of biodiesel.
The nanospheres, loaded up with acidic and basic catalysts, convert vegetable oils or animal fats into fuel by reacting with the free fatty acids and oils. Lin's technology replaces methoxide, a toxic and corrosive catalyst that is traditionally used in biodiesel production, and eliminates several steps from the original reaction. As a result, the nanospheres, which can be incorporated into existing biodiesel plants and recycled, will help make production far cheaper, faster and less toxic. With the help of Caitlin Inc., a company set up to produce and market the technology, Lin hopes to build enough of the nanosphere catalysts over the next 18 months to augment biodiesel production from a lab scale to a plant scale of 300 gallons per day. Caitlin will later decide whether it plans on remaining a catalyst company or whether it will work with other firms to develop its own biodiesel.