Introduction: Optimal biodiesel production is important in reducing cost and increasing efficiency. Studying and testing different parameters used to make biodiesel are the best way to achieve this. Our project improves biodiesel yield and quality by performing a parametric study of the production process.
Biodiesel: Biodiesel is an alternative, renewable diesel fuel made from vegetable oils or animal fats rather than petroleum. It is biodegradable, nontoxic and drastically reduces most emissions from a diesel engine compared to petroleum diesel. Biodiesel is far safer to use and transport, and can be used in existing diesel engines with little or no modification. The burning of fuels contributes to greenhouse gases (such as carbon dioxide), which cause global warming. When petroleum diesel is used as a fuel, 22 lb of carbon dioxide are generated for each gallon combusted. One suggestion to lower greenhouse gas emissions would be to invest in clean renewable fuels that would be “carbon dioxide neutral”, such as biodiesel.
Biodiesel Production: Typically biodiesel is produced by the transesterification reaction of vegetable oil and an alcohol in the presence of a catalyst. Natural lipids (olive oil, soybean oil, waste vegetable oil, algae oil, etc.) are reacted with an alcohol (methanol or ethanol) and a catalyst (sodium hydroxide (NaOH) or potassium hydroxide (KOH)). The products are biodiesel and glycerin (byproduct), which are separated by gravity. An undesirable side reaction may take place in which oil reacts with the NaOH catalyst to form soap. This is removed using a soap adsorption powder. This ease of production makes biodiesel one of the most promising alternative fuels being researched today.
Project Goal: The goal of this project is to investigate the effect different feedstocks and operating parameters have on biodiesel production, and which parameters optimize biodiesel yield.
Approach/Metrics: Our goal is accomplished using a bench-top biodiesel processor that allows for small scale production. Some operating conditions that are investigated in our biodiesel processor are temperature, ratio of reactants and the processing time. The quality of biodiesel is assessed by measuring properties such as viscosity, density, the heating value and the impurities. The metrics to evaluate optimal biodiesel yield are the cost and energy input and output. Because this project is done using a bench-top scale processor, it will aid small biodiesel producers, as well as large-scale facilities that cannot perform this research with their processors.
Outcome: The outcome of this project is the optimization of biodiesel quality and yield. This is accomplished by recognizing what combination of feedstocks and operating conditions will produce cost effective and quality biodiesel. This project has widespread implications for improving biodiesel production, and can benefit not only the producer but also the world around us.