PITA Fiscal Year 2013 Projects

Integrated Continuous Biodiesel Production Process

Lead University: Lehigh University
PI: James T. Hsu, Dept. of Chemical Engineering
Co-PI(s): Lori Herz, Bioengineering Program
PA Industry: MOR Supercritical

Over the past couple of decade’s fatty acid methyl esters derived from vegetables oils and animal fats have assumed importance as potential diesel fuel extenders known as "biodiesel". The biodiesel provides many advantages, comparing to petroleum-based diesel fuel, including lower emissions of particulate matter, unburned hydrocarbons, carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, and sulfur dioxide. Biodiesel is commonly produced by the transesterification of triglycerides from oils and fats with excess alcohol, most commonly methanol. Alkali or acidic catalysts are often used to accelerate the reaction.

In this project, there are two key subjects will be investigated to reduce the biodiesel production costs. The first one is to recycle the expensive catalysts for transesterification reaction. The second one is to develop the continuous production process based on continuous flow reactors, such as continuous stirred tank reactors or plug-flow reactors, to replace the conventional batch reactors. Continuous flow reactors, having been demonstrated in the petroleum refining industry, will significantly reduce the operation costs for biodiesel production.