Soybean oil blend works well as fuel for home furnaces

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — A blend of degummed soybean oil and No. 2 fuel oil can be used as an alternative heating fuel and reduce sulfur emissions, according to a Purdue University scientist.

Purdue researcher Klein Ileleji found that a 20 percent blend of degummed soybean oil performed well in home furnaces and reduced sulfur emissions. (Purdue Agricultural Communications photo/Tom Campbell)

Purdue researcher Klein Ileleji found that a 20 percent blend of degummed soybean oil performed well in home furnaces and reduced sulfur emissions. (Purdue Agricultural Communications photo/Tom Campbell)

Klein Ileleji, an assistant professor of agricultural and biological engineering, tested blends of 20 percent, 50 percent and 100 percent degummed soybean oil – an unrefined and cheaper product to produce than soy methyl esters, commonly known as biodiesel – and found that the 20 percent blend didn’t degrade a home furnace’s parts or heat output. The only issue found with the 20 percent blend was a slight early degradation of the furnace’s seals and gaskets, which manufacturers could fix by switching to a higher quality product. Ileleji’s findings were reported in the recent early online version of the journal Fuel.

“You are going to reduce the sulfur emissions with degummed soybean oil. The things you should be worried about with a biofuel, such as the pour point temperature and heating ability, were not affected,” Ileleji said. “You want to keep the properties of your No. 2 fuel oil, and at 20 percent degummed soybean oil, you would minimally affect those properties.”

Removing gumming agents from soybean oil eliminates its harmful effects on fuel injection nozzles, gaskets and other parts, and creates a combustible biofuel. Like some other biofuels, its properties can be less desirable than traditional fuels. Ileleji’s study showed that 100 percent degummed soybean oil and a 50 percent blend had reduced flashpoints, making them more difficult to ignite; reducing heat content; creating higher temperatures associated with cold filter plugging points; and leading to early degradation of seals and gaskets.

“Overall, using 20 percent degummed soybean oil, you can get by using existing furnace designs,” Ileleji said. “You can use a 20 percent blend without changing your combustion system, and you will not be changing its performance. What you will be getting is the benefit of lower sulfur emissions, which is good for the environment.”

Ileleji’s work was a continuation of a project started by Harry Gibson, a retired Purdue professor of agricultural and biological engineering, and Gibson’s graduate student, Bradley Kaufman. The Indiana Soybean Alliance and the Indiana United Soybean Board funded the research.

Ileleji said he is testing the degummed soybean blends with farm grain dryers to see if the biofuel could be used efficiently with those devices’ burners.

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