Monday, May 11, 2020

Quest: Processing

Milo showed up at Dot’s house with two barrels of gasoline in the back of his truck.

After knocking on her door to let her know he was about to make a delivery, she said “Not so fast, big boy.”

She followed him out to the truck and commanded him to unscrew the bung of one of the barrels.

She dipped in a stick she had picked up somewhere along the way. It was bereft of bark.

She dipped the stick into the gasoline, pulled it out and sniffed it. Then she held it out to Tory who had followed them out.

“What do you smell?” she asked Tory.

“I dunno. Gas?” Tory said.

Dot said “You smelled something, but it was not gasoline. At least, it is not good gasoline.”

“Take it back. This will not do. It smells like paint” Dot said. And she refused to let Milo unload it. “You would be littering because I have no use for this….stuff.”

Milo reported the exchange to Rick Salazar, his father-in-law who dutifully reported it to the war-planning counsel.

“Do you think she is being a prima-donna?” Rick asked.

“I dunno” Kelly said. “It is not like she can park the plane beside the road and walk home if the gas is bad.”

“Did you smell the gas?” John Wilder asked.

“Milo did” Salazar said. “But how can gas go bad? It sat in the ground for millions of years?”

“Let me ask Sam. She will know” Wilder said.

Later that night, Dr. Sam Wilder gave John a quick lesson on gasoline.

“Damned straight it can go bad! It can pick up water. The more volatile components can boil off making it hard to start. But worst of all, for engines with carburetors, the aromatics can polymerize or oxidize and form varnish. Aromatics have double-bonds and are likely to do that. That varnish can screw up all kinds of things.” Sam said.

“You should thank that old lady for having the presence of mind to check it before she used it.” Sam concluded.

“Well, then we are totally screwed.” John said. “We cannot win without having better intelligence and that means we need eyes-in-the-sky.

“I did NOT say it couldn’t be fixed” Sam said. “All I was saying is that pouring that gas into a plane and trying to fly was an invitation to a disaster. Give me a few days and I will see what we can do to fix things.”

The next day, Dr. Sam Wilder approached her newest department head. “Charise, I hate doing this to you, but I have to pull you off this assignment because an even hotter issue came up.”

Charise looked mildly peeved. “You know this is not efficient. It is not like I can come back and pick up exactly where I left off.”

Sam was all too familiar with bosses who tried to get three workers to cover the amount of work that deserved five people. If they were lucky, they ended up getting two people’s worth of work out of the three.

“Do you have anybody who can keep this project moving forward if you can only give it, say, 20% of your time?” Sam asked.

Charise looked over her underlings. “Mandy, come here.”

Charise told Mandy exactly what had to happen in the lab before everybody was released to go home. Then she had Mandy repeat back the criteria.

It took a half hour, but then Charise was willing to follow Sam to her “second job”.

“The situation is that we have gasoline but it has been sitting in partially filled gas tanks for almost 24 months. It degraded” Sam said.

“Your job is to distill it to remove the varnish and gums. Then test it. Then reblend it to get it back to more than 87 Octane.” Sam said.

“How will I test it?” Charise asked.

“It will be simple. One of our gear-heads will put together an engine. He will calibrate it. You will put the fuel into the engine and adjust the timing until it does not knock. Then you will reference a table to convert the timing angle to an estimate of the octane.” Sam said.

Sam hoped it would be that easy.

“Okey-dokey” Charise said. “Just how much fuel will I have to distill?” She asked.

“At least 400 gallons. Maybe as much as a thousand. But don’t worry. Gabby Salazar is sending over one of her employees, one who works in the distillery. His name is Allen Hamilton. He will be your right-hand-man” Sam said.

Sam’s next stop was Charise’s husband, Ozzie.

“Do you have your shopping list?” she asked.

Sam was impressed by how specific the list was but she was a bit mystified by some of the items.

“Why do you need toner powder for laser printers?” Sam asked. “I am not expecting reports.”

“I need powdered iron for the catalyst” Ozzie explained. “Toner powder is about 50% iron oxide particles. The magnets are to separate out the ferrite particles. Then I will put them on a carrier and reduce them in situ.” Ozzie explained.

Looking down the list, Sam saw he asked for a pallet of terra cotta flower pots (broken ok). “I am guessing you plan to use flower pots for the carrier?” Sam said with amusement creeping into her voice.

“Actually, I plan to crush them into fragments” Ozzie said with complete seriousness. Ozzie was all business. “Terra cotta is porous and I expect it will hold the iron dust.”

Looking at Ozzie’s specifications for the reaction vessels, Sam said “We need to talk about this.”

“You are piloting a batch process but if we plan this right we can use what you come up with as a stage in the steady-state process” Sam said.

Ozzie looked at the drawing he had made, really, more of a sketch than a drawing. “The book says we will get about 15% yield. I was planning on adding more nitrogen and hydrogen and running it back through the catalyst bed.’

Sam nodded. “The problem is that the argon level builds up over time. But that is a great idea. Once you have it pumped up-to-pressure, there is no point in blowing it off until you have to.”

Looking at the sketch of the apparatus, Ozzie asked “Do you think it is worth adding more stages after this? After all, each stage will produce 15% less ammonia.”

“Actually” Sam said “I was thinking this could be the LAST stage and adding stages on to the front-end.”

“So they would be bigger!” Ozzie said.

“Yup. You better up-size the furnace because you going to have to package seven catalyst beds, each one bigger than the next” Dr Sam said.

Even if they didn’t use the ammonia for explosives there was a huge market in agriculture.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting twist! And yes, gas can and does go bad!


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