Researchers from Brown University have come up with a simplified process for converting used French fry oil and other used vegetable oils into biofuel. The process take place in a single vessel, which makes it far less expensive. Though the research has a way to go before it’s commercially viable, it does offer the potential for a faster, cheaper biofuel production process that could help ease our way out of peak oil. And there are some other goodies, too.
A Better Way to Make Biodiesel from Waste Vegetable Oil
In conventional biodiesel production, two separate reactions are needed. That’s because the two chemicals used to convert two components of vegetable oil (free fatty acids and triacylglycerols) are not compatible with each other. The Brown researchers focused on finding chemicals that are compatible and cheap. They settled on two metals commonly used in organic chemistry, bismuth triflate and scandium triflate.
More Goodies from Single Vessel Biodiesel Production
Using a microwave reactor, the researchers converted waste vegetable oil into biodiesel in about 20 minutes. That’s far less than the two hours it would take in a conventional heater, without catalysts. The short reaction time means that the process also uses less energy. Also helping to lower costs, the two metal catalysts can be recycled up to five times while maintaining a conversion efficiency of 97 per cent.
The Future of Biofuel
Waste vegetable oil is just one of a growing number of feedstocks for biofuels that do not interfere with food crops. Waste oil is a particularly attractive source because it also solves a waste disposal problem. With an established market for waste vegetable oil, commercial food facilities will have a good incentive to keep oils out of the sewers, which will help ease sewer system and wastewater treatment costs. For that matter, researchers are also developing methods to refine biofuels from “trap grease,” which is the gunky stuff that gets skimmed off at sewage treatment plants.
Image: Vessel by cliff1066TM on flickr.com.
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