Simple, effective B100 quick field test available

By | April 01, 2006
As biodiesel becomes increasingly represented in the nation's diesel fuel supplies, quality has never been more important. As production flourishes this year, it's imperative to get onboard with quality-not just quantity-assurance.

Dr. Randall von Wedel, principal biochemist with CytoCulture International, and California biodiesel pioneer, developed a needed and practical tool for use throughout the entire biodiesel supply chain-a simple, quality-driven B100 field test that's effective and quick.

The kit is called the pHLip (pronounced "flip") Test, and as the name suggests, it is sensitive to pH. Clever enough, the name also provides instructions for how to use the kit-B100 is filled to the indicated level, after which the tester simply flips the sealed sample 10 times and waits 10 minutes to gauge initial quality results.

To facilitate its use at a terminal or in a plant, the pHLip Test relies on the visual identification of various distinctions in the fuel to be tested and the dyed aqueous solution provided in the test vial-and the interface between-which are then visually compared to an on-spec reference B100 sample provided with the kit.

The pHLip Test has a variety of applications, but the most practical one is testing aged biodiesel-the older the biodiesel, the more acidic it becomes. As the pH drops, the solution color shifts from its original red to orange and then yellow for the more acidic samples.

Another practical application for the test is detecting the presence of catalyst in biodiesel. Von Wedel has witnessed some serious engine problems over the years due to traces of the hydroxide (lye) present in the fuel. The indicator solution color changes from red to purple when the B100 contains residues of catalyst.

Soaps, monoglycerides, diglycerides and triglycerides can all be quick-tested too. The presence of these contaminants make the fuel portion of the sample vial (top) look turbid, but the interface between the B100 and the indicator solution accumulates visible residues, rather than having a razor-sharp reflection von Wedel referred to as the "mirror finish."
"The accumulation of residues in actuality is a signal amplification that pushes the sensitivity of the assay near the ASTM limits for total glycerin contamination," von Wedel told Biodiesel Magazine. "The focusing of residues at the interface with the signal amplification combine to form the 'lens effect.'"

The main purpose of this test is to act as a "firewall," blocking potentially out-of-spec fuel from getting into the supply chain. "If the pHLip Test reveals a problem, we suggest getting those samples to a lab for testing immediately," von Wedel warned.

The National Biodiesel Board (NBB) supports this kind of test, although NBB Technical Director Steve Howell said there is no substitution for ASTM D6751. "NBB is currently working with Dr. von Wedel in getting his kit commercially available on the NBB store," Howell told Biodiesel Magazine. Von Wedel said the full kit will come with 10 vials of solution and a B100 reference sample for comparison.

Until then, von Wedel and CytoCulture International are offering "Beta Kits," free sample kits that contain three vials, order forms and an insert summarizing the technology behind the test. Write to [email protected] for more information.
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