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Monday, November 20, 2006

Head too big, enlarge door

Since I attended the school, I can tell you that the ChemEng and MatSci departments at the University of Minnesota have a bit of an ego problem. Just because they get rated near the top doesn't excuse laughable comments like this one concerning new hydrolysis techniques:
"What Lanny does is sorcery," says Frank Bates, head of the chemical engineering and materials science department. "This is classic Minnesota chemical engineering in the tradition of understanding how to steer chemical reactions to get more of the products you want and less of those you don't."
Still, I would like to find out more about the techniques that Prof. Schmidt has dreamed up, as the problem he has claimed to have solved does sound intriguing.
What makes vegetable oil, sugars and starches so hard to turn into fuels is the fact that they don't evaporate when heated. As a drop of oil sits on a hot surface, its bottom layer is exposed to heat but not oxygen. In the absence of oxygen, the heat will break down the molecules of oil into water vapor and carbon "gunk" rather than into synthesis gas. A similar situation applies to crystals of sugar.


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