This Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase II project proposes a potentially viable solution for many financially stressed biodiesel producers. Industry estimates that 75% of the installed base of 173 U.S. producers is currently idle. In order become economically viable, they must be able to use less costly, and therefore, less refined agricultural source oils as their feedstock. The R&D presented here builds on a successful NSF Phase I SBIR grant focused on discovering new acidified heterogeneous catalyst formulations capable of refining lower cost feedstocks without adding substantial process costs. Phase II will use these catalysts along with reaction kinetics developed in the subsequent SBIR Phase IB to assemble and demonstrate a pilot-scale biodiesel reactor that will continuously produce FAME from high FFA feedstock (>15% FFA) with a yield greater than 90% for a minimum of six months.
The broader impacts of this research are the ability to simultaneously use low cost feedstock and to greatly simplify the biodiesel production process to achieve total cost saving of ~$1.00/gal. With these savings, retrofitted, currently idled facilities will be able to produce biodiesel fuel that will be cost competitive with petroleum diesel and help meet anticipated global market demand of ~8 billion gallons of biodiesel by 2015. These markets would add employment to economically depressed areas of the United States and bring the nation closer to energy independence.
Project Outcome: NextCAT has developed a heterogeneous catalyst for biodiesel production that has demonstrated superior performance in two different biodiesel applications. First, NextCAT has demonstrated production of ASTM grade biodiesel that is economically competitive with petroleum based diesel with moderately high feedstock, such as DDGS corn oil and yellow grease/used cooking oil. Secondly, NextCAT's catalyst shows strong performance as a front end esterification catalyst converting over 97% of fatty acids when run in a single stage continuous flow packed bed reactor. When transesterification dominates, the reaction requires two stages with total residence time of 120 minutes. When esterification dominates, the reaction requires one stage and a total residence time of 30 minutes. Because high FFA feedstock, such as fatty acid distillate and brown grease, are significantly less expensive than those currently utilized, they would be the preferred option for biodiesel producers if a low cost process were available and proven. Intellectual Merit: NextCAT has developed a heterogeneous catalyst for economical biodiesel production that has been validated at pilot scale for a wide range of moderate and high FFA feedstocks offering a "true" multi-feedstock system for both new build and esterification front-end retrofit opportunities. NextCAT catalyst focus is high FFA feedstock with is lower cost than refined vegetable oil and which are not economically refined with current technology. As a result of the NSF SBIR Phase II Grant, NextCAT has formed a development collaboration with an established biodiesel producer to design, build and operate a demonstration scale, esterification supplementary process to an existing facility to permit the fatty acid distillate (FAD) stream to be economically converted into fatty acid alkyl ester (FAAE). NextCAT's heterogeneous catalytic technology shows the ability to simultaneously use low cost feedstocks and to greatly simplify the biodiesel production process offering a mulit-feedstock system for both new build and esterification front-end retrofit opportunities. Adapting this technology will offer a savings to biodiesel producers of $1.00-$2.00 per gallon, allowing them to be cost competitive with petroleum diesel and help meet anticipated global market demand of approximately 10 billion gallons of biodiesel by 2015. Additional biodiesel production would add employment to economically depressed areas of the United States and bring our nation closer to energy independence. Equally important, if successful, this chemical engineering project will extend and advance the science of heterogeneous catalysis for practical biofuel production and non-fuel esterification and transesterification applications outside of the biofuel field. Broader Impacts: NextCAT's technology shows the ability to simultaneously use low cost feedstocks and to greatly simplify the biodiesel production process to produce biodiesel that is economically competitive to petroleum based diesel. Achieving this goal will help the biodiesel market add employment to economically depressed areas of the United States and bring our nation closer to energy independence.