Saving ‘Mother Earth’

Saving ‘Mother Earth’

ROMA – Green is the modern buzzword. That is why the National University of Lesotho (NUL) graduates, Phomolo Khonthu and Likopo Liphotho requested the temporary use of one NUL lab to develop their biodiesel — a green fuel — for vehicles and heavy machinery.
They also use exhausted vegetable oil to make their green stuff.

Our planet faces a danger lserious enviromental danger due to high emission rate of greenhouse gases.
Everybody knows a thing or two about the eminent environmental tragedy.
So for these folks, the development of biodiesel goes beyond their interests in business.

They want to make their own contribution, no matter how small, in saving the beloved planet earth.
For those who are a bit lost about this “green” thing, biodiesel can be said to be carbon-neutral.
That is, no matter how much carbon dioxide (CO2) is thrown into the atmosphere during its burning, the same CO2 will, in theory, be absorbed again once new oil plants are grown, the following year, to produce oil.

That is just one good thing in a repertoire of biodiesel’s environmental credentials – they are many.
But, of course, the idea is not only about saving the environment – this is also about the mighty business.
Lesotho needs to get busy in business and the youngsters are leading the way.

That is why these folks are awaiting the possibility of assistance by local funders in a business competition.
“If we get the funding we are ready to start,” they said.
“In terms of business, there is a huge opening,” Khonthu said. “Few things are as widely used as liquid fuels in Lesotho,” and — this is almost a proverb — “we import it all!”

As these two students moved around Maseru and other towns in Lesotho, they were struck by how much waste oil is produced in Lesotho.
Basotho are addicted to oil (not crude oil, of course).
They eat oil in French fries (who doesn’t like li-chips?), in fat-cakes (who isn’t brought down to his heels by the smell of makoenya in a hungry stomach?) and in fried fish.

But few of us really think about the consequences — where on earth does the waste oil used in making the goodies go after it is all done?
“The shops normally reuse for three to four times” Khonthu revealed.
But oil has limits, so once its job is done, it is thrown away.

“That is where the problem is, that throwing away,” Khonthu gave an insightful observation.
“But that oil is actually a brilliant raw material for biodiesel.”
To understand, let’s explore the oil’s make-up.
Oil is amazing!

The learned folks in our midst like to call oil molecules triglycerides.
In short, it means three (tri) glycerides bound together.
This amazing molecule, the three in one, makes an important part of your body and, besides, it lends itself to being manipulated into forming bio-diesel.

How is that possible?
Of course it starts with plenty of filtering the waste oil to ensure that unwanted materials and food remains are removed from the oil.
But when you add methanol and a catalyst to oil, in a well-designed operation, something good happens.
There is a mutual and a very welcome exchange between ethanol and triglyceride.

Methanol donates its CH3s to triglyceride and, as a thank you, triglyceride gives off CH2CHCH2 it has to methanol.
Everybody is happy.
Each of the three broken triclyceride molecules have now adopted CH3s into their structure and, guess what, they have now become diesel molecules!
There is more good news!
Each of the ethanol molecules, after adopting the CH2CHCH2, have now turned into something else.
Can you guess?
Glycerin!
Yes, that thing which is world-renowned for its skin-moisturizing properties.
So Khonthu said something about the role of glycerin.
“In this case, glycerin is supposed to be a waste.”

Fortunately, these folks haven’t adopted the word “waste” into their vocabulary.
In any case, given the many lucrative uses of glycerin, who, in their right minds, would give up glycerin as a waste?
Glycerin can be purified and sold as it is, or it can be applied into soaps and many other uses, the options are unlimited.
However, there is a problem.

Some of the methanol is left unreacted, but the products have to be free from methanol.
There are a few choices.

They either let this volatile material vaporize (it needs lower temperatures to do so) or they add anhydrous sodium sulphate for a reaction.
Despite having to consider the cost of each alternative, one might be interested in the vaporization option because it means the unreacted methanol is easily recycled.

In the end, what?
“We have indeed made some laboratory tests to prove that we have produced biodiesel,” Khonthu said.
“Now we are about to power a small machinery before we move on to power a car.”
Feel free to volunteer your diesel car for a test, if you just want to be part of this onward-moving, fearless generation.

Own Correspondent

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