American Oil Chemists' Society holds annual meeting

By | June 01, 2005
Oil enthusiasts from all corners of the globe converged in Salt Lake City, Utah, during the first week of May for the American Oil Chemist Society's (AOCS) 96th Annual Meeting and Expo. Attendees, exhibitors and presenters flocked to the Great Salt Lake to immerse themselves in a spectrum of oil topics that spanned the gamut: edible oil applications; health, nutrition and pharmaceuticals; biotechnology; detergents and surfactants; and industrial oil applications, to name a few.

One of the hottest topics at the conference was biodiesel. With several technical sessions on biodiesel plus a daylong short course, the focus of topical themes centered on important issues like NOx emissions, cold flow properties and enhancing additives, industry specifications, lubricity, feedstock selection and process techniques.

The topic of biodiesel NOx emissions was the predominant issue throughout the alternative fuel-related sessions. Feedstock selection and biodiesel production processes play a big role in the varying amount of NOx emissions from burning differently sourced esters. Fatty acid saturation and chain length were discussed in relation to NOx emissions; higher degrees of fatty acid saturation-not longer molecular chain lengths-were said to lower NOx emissions. Also, combustion temperature plays a big role; higher combustion temperatures increase NOx (for more information on NOx, see the article on page 32). With all eyes focused on emission attributes like increases in NOx and decreases in carbon monoxide and particulate matter (PM), John Van Gerpen from the University of Idaho had a message: "These arguments [on the benefits and drawbacks of biodiesel emissions] may apply to the existing fleets, but after 2007 [and 2010, when federal law mandates strict control of PM and NOx], these emissions arguments will be irrelevant."

Robert Dunn of the USDA's Agricultural Research Service (ARS) talked about cold flow properties of biodiesel. He said heated tanks aren't necessarily the answer. "Warm biodiesel being blended with cold diesel will cause shock to the fuel," Dunn said. He discussed nitrogen agitation for biodiesel storage. He also advocated the chemical modification of vegetable oil, such as ozonization, as a pour point depressant additive.

Gerhard Knothe of the ARS also talked about improving cold temperature properties of biodiesel. Knothe said the three most popular and effective ways to improve low temperature properties are additives, winterization and branched esters. Winterization, he explained, is what occurs when biodiesel is cooled to a desired temperature, and the solid, or saturated, material is removed, leaving the remainder to have a lower cloud point. This unfortunately leads to a loss of material and a lower cetane number in the remaining esters.

Steve Howell, technical director for the National Biodiesel Board (NBB), stressed the importance of ASTM D6751 standards for B100. He said, "We are currently working on a stand-alone specification for the finished B20 blend ... and we are incorporating an allowance of up to 5 percent biodiesel into the traditional diesel specification, ASTM D975." He went on to say the NBB is also working toward modifying the ASTM D6751 spec to address concerns of the OEMs so that warranties eventually cover B20 use in new diesel engines.

Knothe also discussed an interesting aspect of biodiesel lubricity. He said that, contrary to the general assumption, methyl ester moieties in low blends do not provide lubricity, but rather the "contaminants," or free fatty acids (FFA) and monoacylglycerols, are the lubricating agents in low-level biodiesel blends. "The biodiesel components, or contaminants, give better lubricity than neat methyl esters so imperfect conversion leads to better lubricity," Knothe said. Howell spoke on the upcoming federal mandate for ultra low sulfur diesel, saying, "A 2 percent biodiesel blend will solve the lubricity problem with any diesel fuel out on the market today."

Feedstock selection was integral to several presentations. Discussions on virgin oils versus animal fats and used cooking oils centered on market price differences, FFA content and additional processing needed to purify high FFA feedstocks, along with the higher capital costs to process the lower-grade feedstocks. Scrutiny of the different feedstocks covered purchasing to final product properties. Dhruv Tapasvi of North Dakota State University presented a unique process-modeling tool to analyze the economics of various feedstocks. Interested producers and future producers were urged to contact him to obtain the program.

Various process techniques-ranging from the Dallas Group's trademarked Magnesol process to biodiesel production from lipid sources such as soy flakes (see page 40)-were covered in technical depth as well.
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