An Iowa State University chemistry professor hopes to take research into the real world to make the production of bio-diesel faster, cheaper and less toxic. Victor Lin is using a new material he developed as the catalyst for the process to convert oil into bio-diesel. Lin says the catalyst has a honeycomb structure that allows it to work.

He says the structure of the catalyst allows the chemicals to flow in and react and be converted to bio-diesel and glycerin. Lin says the catalyst is made up of environmentally-friendly elements that are still proprietary information and he can’t say what they are. Lin says the environmentally friendly nature of the elements is important once the process is complete.

The material can be disposed in the landfill without posing an environmental concern. He says the catalyst now commonly used in making biodiesel requires water and other chemicals to recover the catalyst from the final product. Lin says the process requires you to add a lot of water and chemicals, which makes the process more expensive, and the addition of water cuts down on the shelf life of the biodiesel.

His product allows producers to circumvent all the chemical and water used in the current process. Lin says his new catalyst can be easily separated from the bio-diesel with a filter and reused several times. Vegetable oils are now commonly used for biodiesel, while Lin says his catalyst will allow producers to use cheaper oils — another way to cut costs.

A California company has signed an agreement with Lin and Iowa State University to create a biodiesel plant using the new process. Lin says the goal is to build a plant that can mimic the findings of his lab work, and show that the process can be used on an industrial scale. Lin says they hope to have the pilot plant up and running in the next 18 months.