Whole Energy receives grant to research estolides from biodiesel

By Ron Kotrba | July 06, 2017

West Coast biodiesel distributor and glycerin refiner Whole Energy Fuels Corp. has been awarded a $100,000 federal grant to study whether a lower-cost pathway is possible to make estolides—a type of lubricant—from biodiesel.

The company received notification of the grant in June from the Small Business Administration’s Small Business Innovative Research program, Whole Energy President Atul Deshmane told Biodiesel Magazine. The Phase I grant will be finished by mid-2018, and Phase II will conclude mid-2020. Disbursement of the funds is expected this month.

Deshmane spoke about the biodiesel-to-estolide process in June at the National Advanced Biofuels Conference & Expo in Minneapolis.

“The biofuels industry is continuing to mature, and that maturation requires higher-value niche markets be developed and explored,” Deshmane said. “Whole Energy has been doing this with esters and glycerin and is now exploring how to chemically process these materials into even higher-value materials.”

Unlike traditional methods, Whole Energy’s process uses fatty acid methyl esters—biodiesel—as the base fatty acid, rather than oleic acid. “On top of a lower cost, this reduces the need for a separate reaction later to esterify the fatty acid,” Deshmane said.

The market for estolides is the same as for synthetic lubricants, according to Deshmane. “It is a niche within the overall lubricants market,” he said. “Synthetic lubricants are the highest performing lubricants.”

Any estolide has the potential of being used as a synthetic lubricant. “The term synthetic lubricant means one that is not just a distillate out of a petroleum refinery,” Deshmane said. “So a synthetic lubricant does not suggest the feedstock or the process, only that it did not come from a typical petroleum refinery, and some additional chemical unit operations occurred.”

The research is being conducted at Whole Energy’s lab in Anacortes, Washington. 


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