Bayer, Dow join biodiesel forces

By Ron Kotrba | January 19, 2010
Two global powerhouses, Bayer Technology Services GmbH and Dow Water and Process Solutions, joined forces recently to offer a new biodiesel process, trademarked BayFAME. Based on the Dow Amberlyst BD20 solid acid catalyst, which Dow acquired when it purchased Rohm and Haas in early 2009, the BayFAME process allows producers to convert feedstocks of any free fatty acid (FFA) content to methyl esters "without worrying about yield loss, acids and waste," said Susanne Mueller, BTS head of engineering biomass conversion. "[BTS], working with Dow Water and Process Solutions, has designed the complete esterification process from reaction kinetics, process design, mass-to-heat balances and equipment design, with global patents filed." She said customers can choose from feasibility studies, engineering packages or turnkey operations for FFA esterification using the licensed BayFAME process.

For feedstock streams with lower FFA content, a single reaction stage can reduce the FFA concentration to as low as 0.1 percent by weight. "Depending on the necessary conversion needed to ensure excellent downstream transesterification kinetics, more than one [esterification] stage may be necessary, with inter-stage water removal, to drive the equilibrium and complete the reaction," Mueller said. Thus, for high-FFA feedstocks, a three-stage BayFAME process can be employed to handle up to 100 percent FFA streams.

BayFAME is being offered as both an inline and offline esterification process. "Inline means FFAs and the triglyceride portion is going through all stages," Mueller explained. "Offline includes an FFA separation step. The standard process is the inline version."

Donna Rohan with DWPS said there are numerous advantages from basing the BayFAME process on the Amberlyst BD20 catalyst. "There's less waste, improved safety and handling, less stringent metallurgy for reactors, potentially less sulfur in the product, and more environmentally benign processing," she said. "During the development of Amberlyst BD20, a novel solid acid catalyst with the correct polymer structure and morphology was created, which has an environment amenable to both hydrophobic and hydrophilic substrates."

Rohan couldn't say exactly how long the solid acid catalyst is guaranteed to remain active and effective. "Since all feed streams are not created equal, this is a difficult question to answer directly," she told Biodiesel Magazine. "What we can say is that none of the raw materials of the reaction, meaning fatty acids, methanol, water or glycerides, will harm the catalyst. Its lifetime is dependent on the impurities present in the feedstock. These impurities can be classed as chemical or physical foulants." To help extend catalyst life, Rohan said scientists have developed the trademarked Dow Ambersep BD19 guard-bed material to remove impurities before they can deactivate the catalyst.

The BayFAME esterification reaction is run at similar pressures and temperatures as traditional transesterification.

"Being able to use a variety of feedstocks, those less expensive than virgin refined oils, is clearly advantageous," Mueller said. "It all boils down to minimizing production costs."
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