Minnesota Soybean Research and Promotion Council to show off Plasma Blue biodiesel technology at national show
With the ability to use soybean oil, ethanol and electricity from a renewable source, Tom Slunecka of the Minnesota Soybean Research Council calls Plasma Blue "the ultimate trifecta of renewable liquid fuel." Slunecka will be in Las Vegas to show off Plasma Blue biodiesel technology at the 2022 National Biodiesel Conference and Expo.
Tom Slunecka says everyone has seen the power of plasma in action, but now that power is being harnessed as a more efficient way to make biodiesel.
"Simply look up at a fluorescent light and you see gas being converted into plasma and its output is light," said Tom Slunecka, the CEO at Minnesota Soybean Research and Promotion Council.
That same concept can now be applied to soybean oil and other feedstocks that can be converted into plasma with the output being biodiesel.
Slunecka called the plasma technology an entirely new way of making biodiesel.
Plasma Blue says some of the benefits of the new technology include:
- By using electricity as opposed to natural gas, biodiesel plant owners could realize 5 to 8 cents per gallon savings in production cost.
- Using electricity allows means the energy needed can come from solar or wind to make the biodiesel process greener.
- The process can use ethanol instead of methanol, which also makes the process more environmentally friendly and would mean an ethanol plant could add biodiesel processing.
- The process improves the score of the biodiesel plant.
- The reactor unit is compact and can be easily added to an existing biodiesel plant.
- The biodiesel that is made flows better in cold weather, opening up more northern markets for biodiesel blends.
The soybean council owns Plasma Blue, the company that has developed the technology. The company evolved out of research at the University of Minnesota led by Shaobo Deng with an investment in soybean checkoff dollars.
The key to the technology is using electricity as the catalyst as the molecules from the soybean oil or other feedstock and the alcohol component as they pass through the reactor during the chemical reaction known as transesterification.
By supplying so much energy the gas is ionized and moves from a gaseous state to a plasma, the fourth state of matter.
"Because the reaction is so complete and so efficient, we're able to use ethanol instead of methanol," Slunecka said. "So what the means is your taking a renewable, soybean oil, you're adding together a renewable, ethanol, you're driving the reaction with solar or wind, another renewable, and you're creating the ultimate trifecta of renewable liquid fuel."
Plasma Blue in 2019 received a $150,000 grant from the Minnesota Department of Agriculture to scale up its plasma technology pilot plant at the University of Minnesota toward real-world use in biodiesel production.
Minnesota Soybean Research and Promotion Council unveiled the Plasma Blue technology at the 2020 National Biodiesel Conference and Slunecka said the technology is being used at a biodiesel plant in Michigan.
Slunecka said the Plasma Blue technology has other potential uses. For example, the ability of the process to break apart chemical bonds means it could be used to purify water and eliminate hazardous materials.