News Service


Skip Derra, News Service, (515) 294-4917


AMES, Iowa--

French fry fuel

Landfills can't keep up with waste generated by today's society, and scientists warn about global warming and preserving Earth's fragile ozone layer. In an effort to recycle and reuse, Iowa State mechanical engineering professor Jon Van Gerpen is looking at the possibility of processing food service waste oils into biodiesel fuel. Van Gerpen said that ISU's Friley Hall dormitory alone generates 10,000 pounds of waste oil per semester and that most soybean oil from restaurants is reused to make animal feed.

"But I think we can find a higher value use for some of the waste," says Van Gerpen. "The benefit of using biodiesel fuel in vehicles is a cleaner-burning fuel that creates less smoke, less carbon monoxide and fewer unburned hydrocarbons."

Van Gerpen says this isn't a new or novel idea. "Some trucks already burn on 100 percent soybean oil rather than the typical blend of 20 percent biodiesel and 80 percent diesel. And there's a plant in Hawaii that totally operates on processed restaurant waste oil," he said. "So we're looking at ways in which Iowa can reuse its waste. We're trying to find out what's in the waste and how much can be converted for another use." Iowa's Recycling and Reuse Technology Transfer Center funds Van Gerpen's research. Contact Van Gerpen at (515) 294-5563, or Mitch Mihalovich, Engineering Communications, (515) 294-4344.

Taking magnets into a new environment

Research on magnet coatings could expand the use of the magnets themselves. Joshua Otaigbe, an ISU assistant professor of chemical engineering and materials science and engineering, and his graduate students have successfully developed an impervious coating system for rare-earth alloys such as neodymium-iron-boron or "neo alloys." The coating system prevents the inherent thermal oxidation and water absorption of the neo alloys.

"Without the coating system, commercial neo alloys and the alloys produced by high-pressure gas atomization are badly corroded in humid and high temperature environments," Otaigbe said

The new coating system consists of a special organometallic compound with dual chemical functional groups that react spontaneously with the neo alloy powder to form a molecular layer of the coating compound, making the alloy water- resistant and thermally-stable up to 500 C. This discovery will make it possible to fabricate permanent magnets and plastic magnets, for the first time, for hostile and corrosive environments where commercial magnetic rare-earth alloys are not useable.

Otaigbe and his students are exploring the effects of the special coating system on the magnetic properties of plastic magnets. By comparison with permanent (metallic) magnets, plastic magnets are lighter, easier to process and corrosion- resistant. Possible uses for the plastic magnets include computers, automobile components, toys and sensors. The National Science Foundation sponsored the research and Arnold Engineering Co., a magnet manufacturer, is working with Otaigbe and his students. Contact Otaigbe at (515) 294-9678, or Skip Derra, News Service, (515) 294-4917.

Confirmation and contradiction

Research by scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy's Ames Laboratory has brought to light a truth and a discrepancy regarding chromatography, the popular chemical separation technique. Chromatographic separation is a process involving many repeated interactions between the molecules in a moving stream and an immobilized surface. The standard picture is that molecules occasionally bind to the surface and become delayed relative to the motion of the overall stream. That theory has been confirmed by Ed Yeung, an ISU distinguished professor of chemistry and Ames Lab program director for Physical and Biological Chemistry, and former postdoctoral fellow Xiao-Hong Nancy Xu, Old Dominion University, Norfolk, Va.

For the first time, the two researchers were able to record images of individual protein molecules as they approach a fused-silica surface. Charge interaction causes the molecules to be trapped in the interfacial liquid layer for tens of milliseconds, verifying the statistical theory of chromatography. However, Yeung's and Xu's work contradicts conventional models that portray the molecules as fixed and immobile. Their studies reveal that the molecules in a moving stream are simply held near the surface, can diffuse freely within the interfacial layer and have much longer interaction distances than previously believed.

The results imply that molecule-surface interactions are considerably more efficient than expected, which may have implications for medical research that includes the binding of drugs on biological cells and the design of biocompatible materials. Contact Ed Yeung at (515) 294-8062, or Saren Johnston, Ames Lab Public Affairs, (515) 294-3474.

Astronaut Sally Ride will lecture at ISU

Sally Ride, the first woman to fly into space aboard the space shuttle Challenger will speak on the "Future of the U.S. Space Program," Saturday, Oct. 24, at 8 p.m. at ISU's C.Y. Stephens Auditorium. Ride, who later headed the Presidential Commission investigating the 1986 Challenger accident, will be giving the Society for Women Engineers Student Chapter Lecture. Ride is a physicist at the University of California, San Diego, and a member of the President's Committee of Advisors on Science and Technology. She also has written the children's book "To Space and Back." Her other books include "Voyager: An Adventure to the Edge of the Solar System" and "The Third Planet: Exploring the Earth from Space." Contact Kim Tholen, Society for Women Engineers, (515) 294-0678, or Skip Derra, News Service, (515) 294- 4917.

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