Supercritical biodiesel plant at ethanol refinery now operational

By Ron Kotrba | November 05, 2015

Nearly two years after the project was announced, a 5 MMgy supercritical biodiesel plant in Annawan, Illinois, is now operational. Designed and built by Jatrodiesel Inc., the innovative facility is co-located with the 125 MMgy CHS-owned Patriot Renewable Fuels ethanol plant, leveraging the existing refinery’s infrastructure, steam, and distillers corn oil byproduct for biodiesel feedstock.

Raj Mosali, president of the Ohio-based biodiesel process technology firm Jatrodiesel, said the final stages of tying the automation into the process are underway. “All the Super equipment and the distillation columns have been commissioned and are running, and in seven to 10 days the plant should be in full production,” Mosali told Biodiesel Magazine.

CHS personnel trained for two weeks at Jatrodiesel’s headquarters in Miamisburg, Ohio, where Jatrodiesel has been testing its trademarked Super process for three to four years. Mosali said multiple hazop trainings have been performed as well—once with Patriot Renewable Fuels prior to CHS’s takeover, and again afterwards.

Jatrodiesel describes its Super technology as a single-stage process that eliminates esterification and transesterification, and puts no limit on free fatty acid (FFA) levels in feedstock. It cuts the cost of traditional biodiesel refining by 25 to 28 percent, the company says, in part by eliminating the need for conventional catalysts. Feedstock is mixed with methanol and is introduced into the Super column, which operates in a supercritical environment. High temperatures and pressures are maintained in the truly continuous process and complete conversion takes place in minutes with minimal or no loss in yield, according to Jatrodiesel. The feedstock’s water content also has no effect on the process. The mixture coming from the Super column is then sent through a separation process to isolate biodiesel from glycerin, and the excess methanol is recovered. The biodiesel is then either water- or dry-washed to remove excess glycerin.

“This changes the whole landscape,” Mosali said. “The simplicity is remarkable, we’re talking three or four steps in the Super process vs. 10 steps in traditional biodiesel processing. We have built 18 traditional biodiesel plants, and we know the complexity in the process due to variable feedstocks and FFA and, also, the complexity in operations due to various processes involved. The Super process addresses those issues and solves them. The process makes the operations simpler. And it opens up the feedstock choice that can be used in a biodiesel process to everything out there, instead of various restrictions that you normally have in a traditional plant.”

Mosali told Biodiesel Magazine that Jatrodiesel had to overcome three big challenges in commercializing the Super process. “There’s no supercritical process used in a chemical plant at this volume, so all the pumps, valves, reactors, automation—it was all new ground for us,” he said. “The biggest thing is scale-up. Doing it in the lab is one thing, but when employing the supercritical process on a massive scale, nothing works the same so we had to figure out all the complications around that.”

The second hurdle was making the process truly continuous vs. batch, as Mosali said most supercritical operations in other industries are batch. “How to pressurize and relieve in continuous fashion was important—how to supply pressures and temperatures in a truly continuous mode,” he said. “We couldn’t be a true fuel-making company in batch-mode.”

Finally, overcoming the high equipment costs for a supercritical process was paramount. “If our capex was two to three times the cost of a traditional biodiesel plant, then simplicity and lower operational costs of the process wouldn’t matter because, while it saves on the process side—well, knowing what we know about this industry right now, we had to stay price-competitive,” Mosali said. 

According to Mosali, Jatrodiesel can build a 15 MMgy greenfield supercritical plant for $1 to $1.25 per gallon vs. a traditional greenfield plant of the same size at $1.50 to $2 a gallon.

“If it’s vertically integrated into an ethanol refinery, for example, the costs are even lower because we’re leveraging the existing infrastructure, steam and on-site feedstock,” he said. Furthermore, with the high-volume of diesel truck traffic moving in and out of ethanol plants, Mosali said on-site dispensing of biodiesel blends would help satisfy that great demand for fuel. In addition, the ethanol plant could capture the D4 RINs.

Jatrodiesel personnel remain on-site in Annawan as the new biodiesel facility moves toward full operation in the coming days. 


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