Hiking Biodiesel Yield

Wednesday, September 16, 2015 @ 09:09 AM gHale

There is a way to increase the yield of biodiesel by using the waste left over from its production process.

Using simple catalysis, it is possible to recycle a non-desired by-product produced when biodiesel ends up formed from vegetable oil, and convert this into an ingredient to produce even more biodiesel, said researchers at Cardiff University.

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This new process will have significant environmental benefits by improving the yield of biodiesel in a sustainable way that doesn’t require the use of additional fossil fuels, and could potentially reduce the costs of the biodiesel production process.

By 2020, the EU’s goal is to have 10 percent of the transport fuel of every country come from renewable sources such as biofuels. Fuel suppliers also must reduce the greenhouse gas intensity of the EU fuel mix by 6 percent by 2020 in comparison to 2010.

At present, biodiesel production combines fats and oils with methanol, usually derived from fossil fuels. A waste product from this process is crude glycerol, which forms on a large scale and contains impurities that make it costly to purify and re-use in other areas.

In their study, the researchers from the Cardiff Catalysis Institute developed a way of turning the crude glycerol back into methanol, which could then end up used as a starting reactant to create more biodiesel.

To achieve this, the researchers reacted glycerol with water, to provide the element hydrogen, and a magnesium oxide (MgO) catalyst. The reaction involved a simple one-step process and could end up performed using mild conditions.

Using the recycled methanol, the researchers estimate up to a 10 percent increase in biodiesel production, which they claim would be very helpful to industry.

The work is in its early stages and in the future researchers will look to optimize the design of the catalyst and significantly increase its activity and selectivity.

“Biodiesel manufacture is a growing part of the EU fuel pool, with statutory amounts being required to be added to diesel that is derived from fossil fuels,” said Professor Graham Hutchings, director of the Cardiff Catalysis Institute and lead author of a study on the subject.

“We’ve provided unprecedented chemistry that highlights the potential to manufacture biodiesel in a much more environmentally friendly, and potentially cheaper, way, by converting an undesired by-product into a valuable chemical that can be reused in the process,” he said.

“We set out to establish ways in which the waste product glycerol could be used to form other useful compounds, but we were surprised when we found that feeding glycerol and water over such a simple catalyst gave such valuable products and interesting chemistry,” said Professor Stuart Taylor, deputy director of the Cardiff Catalysis Institute and co-author of the study.

“This research has the potential to transform the way in which waste is dealt with, and seriously improve the quality of life by reducing carbon emissions from fossil fuels and encourage efficient use of resources,” he said.

“This paper shows how fundamental catalysis research can develop new mild processes to enhance the sustainability of biodiesel,” said Matthew Rosseinsky, professor of inorganic chemistry at the University of Liverpool, who was not part of the study. “As well as offering new opportunities for industry, it will stimulate the search for even better basic catalysts.”