This SBIR Phase I project will produce biodiesel from low grade lipid sources rather than food grade sources. In addition, the project also has the goal of finding an alternative to currently installed catalyst technology that can employ a less expensive and simplified production process.
The broader/commercial impact of the project will be to capture a bio-fuel from waste products (brown grease) and by-products. The proposed biodiesel catalyst technology shows potential to simultaneously use low cost feedstocks and to greatly simplify the biodiesel production process to achieve cost savings. With these cost savings, retrofitted, currently idled facilities could produce biodiesel fuel below petroleum diesel prices which would help meet the anticipated global market demand of 6 billion gallons of biodiesel by 2012.
The focus of this National Science Foundation (NSF) Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Project was the development of a heterogeneous catalytic method for the economically and environmentally sustainable conversion of a wide variety of agricultural biomass materials into biodiesel. As a result of this research, NextCAT has successfully demonstrated the development of four heterogeneous catalysts that are capable of producing high FAME yields under a range of conditions from high free fatty acids (FFA) feedstocks, such as vegetable oil, animal fats and residual corn oil. These catalysts are able to simultaneously catalyze both the transesterification and esterification reactions in batch and continuous reactor systems resulting in greater than 90% yield of FAME in a single step reaction. Instrumental to the success of these catalysts was the development of an inorganic preparation method which resulted in catalytic formulations that could be used in both batch and continuous flow packed bed systems. These catalysts have exhibited a stable structure which leads to a long in-use catalyst lifetime. Additionally, NextCAT employed a series of bench experiments to obtain a kinetic model for determining the overall esterification and transesterification reaction rates to scale up a benchtop FAME production reactor to an efficient pilot scale process. NextCATâ€™s catalyst technology has the potential to greatly simplify and improve the biodiesel production process, mitigating the need for such process steps as pre-reaction water extraction, pre-reaction separation of free fatty acids (FFA) from triglycerides, post-reaction soap removal, and water washing and neutralization. This combined inorganic chemistry and chemical engineering project offers a unique solution for the biodiesel industry. With a cost savings of at least approximately $1 per gallon, 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. NextCATâ€™s family of heterogeneous catalysts developed in this project will support biodiesel production as a viable alternative to traditional petroleum diesel.