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Emergent Research Could Forge New Paths to Biodiesel’s Future

Submitted by on February 7, 2018 – 7:29 pmNo Comment

by Ron Kotrba (Biodiesel Magazine)  Young scientists presented their ongoing biodiesel research projects during a panel at the National Biodiesel Conference & Expo last week in Fort Worth, Texas. The students are part of the Next Generation Scientists for Biodiesel, a free student professional organization managed by the National Biodiesel Board to help foster collaboration, networking and career development. 

Mary Kate Mitchell, a Ph.D. student at Yale University’s Center for Green Chemistry and Green Engineering, presented her project on heterogeneous catalysis in carbon dioxide (CO2) for the sustainable conversion of vegetable oils to biodiesel. The research revolved around heterogeneous catalysis and an organic cosolvent such as CO2 because, as Mitchell said, the catalyst is recoverable and does not require downstream biodiesel purification, and the high-pressure CO2 cosolvent is inherently green and nontoxic. She said the CO2 cosolvent has “really interesting features” when it surpasses its very achievable critical point of 1,100 psi and 88 degrees Fahrenheit. Mitchell said above this point, the selectivity can be adjusted. She added that the process is used in caffeine and hops extraction for the coffee and beer industries.

The results are still being analyzed, but one of the findings was the C18:1 group (chains with 18 carbon atoms and one double bond) for all three oils achieved around 35 percent conversion at one hour. Extended conversions were done for palm oil and, at four hours, nearly 100 percent conversion of C18:1 chains was achieved. She said more selective conversion of C18:1 was seen over C18:0 and C18:2 because the optimized conditions were for C18:1.

The research has application for real-world biorefineries, Mitchell said, because selective conversion can allow use of C18:1 for biodiesel, for instance, and the other carbon chains can be selected for various products by adjusting the temperature and pressure.

Ahmed Al Hatrooshi, a Ph.D. student from Newcastle University in the U.K., discussed his research on a biorefinery model based on fish waste.

William Gray, a bachelor student in chemical engineering at Rowan University, presented on a switchable ionic liquid solvent for lipid extraction from microalgae.

The final panelist, Matin Hanifzadeh, a Ph.D. chemical engineering student at the University of Toledo, shared his $2.5 million U.S. DOE grant-funded work on sustainable and low-cost production of biodiesel from microalgae.   READ MORE

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