Reducing Cost While Increasing Output

By Chris Getty | October 25, 2011

Whether biofuels will truly contribute to the reduction of the world’s reliance on petroleum, a critical question simply remains. What is the most cost effective process to produce biofuel?

This was a question I asked in 2009, and recognizing a possible solution, I formed AE Resources Inc. As part of a Sponsored Research Project at Penn State University, AE Resources entered into an agreement with the university to develop and commercialize what we believe to be such a solution. Under the direction of Matthew M. Kropf, the project has investigated the technical aspects of the advanced biofuel production reaction with a focus on the development of a novel technology to minimize chemical waste, improve efficiency, product quality, and further translate to other value-added products. The research has resulted in an improved process and understanding of the benefits of ultrasound and microwaves in chemical processing.

The Multi-Energy Optimization Process focuses two unique yet distinctive energies at the point of reaction thus optimizing the chemical conversion. Combining microwave and ultrasound has proven to produce biodiesel more efficiently than other traditional means. It produces a complete emulsification, uniformly distributing equal sizes of oil and catalyst droplets while heating it at the point of reaction. This patented technology has demonstrated that the energy needed to produce a gallon of biodiesel to be 662 Btu compared to 4,912 Btu. It furthermore reduces the catalyst consumption from 0.5 percent weight NaOH to 0.2 percent weight NaOH at atmospheric pressure. This approach has been demonstrated for a multitude of feedstocks including those with high FFA content without the need for neutralization or additional catalysts.

Higher frequency ultrasonic cavitation is shown to result in smaller size and narrower distribution of methanol droplets in oil. The ultrasonic technique itself is shown to create finer dispersions of methanol than those prepared conventionally, as compared to shear mixing. To demonstrate the pertinence of microwave for biofuel production, the dielectric loss of pure methanol was measured as increasing amounts of NaOH catalyst were added. The relation between dipolar relaxation and the free rotation of a single polar molecule was confirmed with the complex permittivity measurements of methanol over a range of temperatures. As the temperature increases, the available energy for molecules to rotate, free of hydrogen bonding, is also increased. Practically, this result indicates that preheated methanol will absorb microwaves less efficiently.

More importantly, this confirmed that when properly “tuned” and administered, microwave energy directly couples to hydrogen bonding breakages, which are limiting factors in diffusion and chemical activity. This means that the appropriate selection of microwave directly enhances the reaction rate. Measuring the time rate of change of the temperature during microwave heating of various emulsions of the components oil and methanol also revealed an unexpected result. It demonstrated that the heating rate of emulsions is greater than either component. This is a unique result, in that, one would expect the heating rate to be limited to the more active, higher dielectric loss material, in this case methanol. However, it was shown that when methanol droplets are suspended ultrasonically in a catalyst-free emulsion, the net heating rate can be greater than that of methanol alone. The reason for this extension is due to the stabilization, both mechanically and thermally, provided by the oil. The oil allows for heat to be conducted away from the methanol droplets at the same time as it prevents the fine droplets from nucleated boiling. In fact, in other studies of near-critical and supercritical fluids, stabilizing droplets in oil has been used to achieve the maximum superheated temperatures by conventional heating.

In any manufacturing process, there a four key components to maximizing efficiencies and reducing costs while maintaining quality: capital investment, the cost of raw material, energy consumption and labor. A revolutionary approach to energy efficiency has been developed for the industrial chemical industry. MEOP is a highly cost-effective, energy-efficient organic chemistry process providing more than 26 percent savings in operational costs, and a 50 percent lower capital expense than current methods.

The technology is an alternative, energy-efficient method of producing organic compounds that nets a 50 percent reduction in energy use and 60 percent reduction in catalyst needs. Proof of concept has been achieved with a prototype, which consistently produces near-perfect emulsifications, while achieving superheated temperatures. This has resulted in a more efficient and streamlined approach to the production of a multitude of organic chemical products. With the introduction of this technology, producers reduce capital and energy costs, maximize labor costs and increase output without sacrificing quality.

Author: Chris Getty
President, AE Resources Inc.
(412) 996-2002

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