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Environmental, Diesel Students Collaborate on Alternative-Fuel Tests


Claude T. Witts,(center) instructor of diesel equipment technology at Pennsylvania College of Technology, mixes diesel fuel and vegetable oil, surrounded by (from left) students Jeremy R. Bell, Benjamin E. Smith, Katie L. Hoffman and Lucas E. Larson, and Steven R. Parker, instructor of environmental technology.In a notable example of cross-curricular cooperation, students in two majors within Pennsylvania College of Technology’s School of Natural Resources Management environmental technology management and diesel equipment technology recently tested use of an alternative-energy fuel substitute in a diesel engine.

The collaboration was shared by faculty members Claude T. Witts, instructor of diesel equipment technology, and Steven R. Parker, instructor of environmental technology, and will be discussed by environmental students Katie L. Hoffman and Lucas E. Larson during senior presentations next month at the Schneebeli Earth Science Center.

As part of their capstone project required of students in all of Penn College’s bachelor-degree majors Hoffman, of Emmaus, and Larson, of Imler, produced biodiesel from used cooking oil obtained from the school cafeteria. Jeremy R. Bell, of McClure, and Benjamin E. Smith, of Wapwallopen, diesel students in the electronic engine diagnostic and repair class, tested the alternative fuel in a 350-horsepower Detroit Diesel Series 60 engine.

The oil was mixed with No. 2 diesel fuel to create a mixture referred to as B20 (80-percent diesel fuel and 20-percent vegetable oil), Witts explained. The mixture then was used to power a diesel engine attached to the school’s dynamometer, which determines horsepower output of a particular engine.

“It was interesting to see the similarities of the two fuels,” Bell said. “It was a good experience because it put into perspective the preparation required to run the alternate fuel.”

The joint effort and the biodiesel test proved successful, Parker noted: The peak horsepower output was nearly the same, and, environmentally, the exhaust from the biodiesel gave substantially reduced emissions especially of carbon monoxide.

The first step in the experiment was to determine the possible horsepower contained in the fuel. That was accomplished by filling three beakers one with pure vegetable oil, one with No. 2 diesel fuel and one with the B20 mixture. An American Petroleum Institute thermometer was used to determine the specific gravity of each substance. Once the API number and specific gravity were known, the students calculated the British thermal units of energy contained in one gallon of each fuel. Since one BTU is equal to 772 foot-pounds of work, Witts explained, they were able to calculate the total foot-pounds of work available in each gallon.

Then, using the equation that one horsepower is equal to 33,000 foot-pounds of work, total horsepower per gallon was calculated. The results of the experiment are listed below:

From that experiment, it was theorized the B20 mixture would produce about the same horsepower as regular No. 2 diesel fuel.

“I thought that the experiment we did in the Dyno room was very interesting,” said Benjamin J. Shreve, a diesel technology student from Fleetwood. “Both fuels had about the same horsepower, with the B20 being a little lower in horsepower according to the Dyno sheet we made comparing the two.”

The next step was to run the fuel through the engine to prove the calculations. The engine was first powered by regular diesel, and the dynamometer was used to place a load on the engine. The horsepower output was graphed across all RPM ranges. After determining the horsepower output of the diesel, a new fuel tank was connected to the engine that contained the B20 mixture. The engine was then placed under a load and the horsepower of the B20 was determined across all RPM ranges. The results verified the earlier experimental results, that a B20 mixture will produce the same horsepower as regular No. 2 diesel fuel:

It also is important to note is that no special filtration units were installed on the engine, Witts said.

Environmental technology management major Lucas E. Larson samples engine emissions.“I thought it was interesting to see the flexibility of B20 “… since the engine was run first on regular diesel then switched over to biodiesel,” said Kyle J. Norek, of Portville, N.Y., a diesel major enrolling this fall in electric power generation technology. “It’s nice for testing purposes, since no engine modifications were required and the engine can be switched back and forth to biodiesel,”

Another experiment is being planned to burn B100, which would be 100-percent vegetable oil.

“I think it is cool that the school is letting us experiment with biodiesel,” Smith said, adding “how much of a difference there was in the exhaust fumes from straight diesel to the bio.”

Three environmental technology management capstone projects will be presented starting at noon May 8 in Room 159 of the Earth Science Center:

  • “Nutrient Removal Efficiency of Grass Buffer Strips: A Focus on Grass Types,” Nicholas Guzenski and Aaron Hottenstein
  • “Investigation of Using Biodiesel in the Penn College Diesel Labs,” Hoffman and Larson
  • “Human Developmental Impact of the Streams of the Williamsport Area,” Ryan Lott and Bryan Delio

For more information about the School of Natural Resources Management, visit online or call (570) 320-8038. To learn more about Penn College, visit on the Web , e-mail or call (800) 367-9222.

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