AOCS meeting highlights biodiesel

By Nicholas Zeman | June 21, 2007
The 98th meeting of the American Oil Chemists' Society (AOCS) in Quebec City, Quebec, in May focused a considerable amount of attention on biodiesel, and even featured methyl esters in a two-day "short course" that preceded the official start of the main exposition and meeting sessions. "Biodiesel is a pretty hot topic right now," said Robert Dunn, chemical engineer for the USDA's Agricultural Research Service (ARS) in Champaign, Ill., and a biodiesel expert who has been studying the fuel for almost 12 years.

Dunn highlighted the most memorable discussions of the Quebec meeting for Biodiesel Magazine, quickly reviewing the areas relating to oil chemistry and biodiesel. "The idea right now is to improve the kinetics [of the production process] by providing a cosolvent," he said. "This way, you get better contact from the reactants." Along those lines, David Boocock gave a presentation, titled "Chemistry and Physics of Making Biodiesel." Boocock, who works for the University of Toronto, invented the patented process used by biodiesel producer Biox Corp. in Hamilton, Ontario. His talk was part of the Industrial Oil Products tract of the meeting, which featured several discussions about renewable fuels.

Some of the most intriguing information of the event came from the simplest of tests. "One of the things that stood out to me was a presentation given by researchers at Wayne State University," Dunn said. "When they tested the fuel for a precise blend ratio, they found that the blend contained much less biodiesel than what they were told they were purchasing. They thought they had bought a B20 blend and discovered it to be only around 2 percent biodiesel or something like that. I thought that was pretty strange."

Dunn's presentation focused on monoglyceride precipitation in storage tanks due to fuel settling. Monoglycerides are essentially molecules containing glycerin and fatty acid, and their formation can clog storage tank pump lines without the biodiesel exhibiting any of the characteristics usually associated with cloud point performance or cold flow properties. Dunn said this work is important because some field performance tests don't account for fuel settling in storage. Terminals or plants can avoid this problem by conducting routine tank cleaning and correct heating practices.
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