French researchers develop enzymatic reactor process

By Luke Geiver | July 08, 2011

A new biocatalyst developed in a chromatography tube at the Centre de Recherches Paul Pascal (CRPP), could greatly improve continuous biodiesel production processes. According to Renal Backov, professor at CRPP, there are two main features of the enzymatic catalyst that will help improve the process. For one, Backov told Biodiesel Magazine, the enzymes are used without being purified, which Backov said, “enhanced their stability while minimizing the whole catalyst price.” The second feature of the catalyst relates to the size. “We are dealing with macroporous (pore diameters of micrometers) hosts and not mesoporous (pore diameters of nanometers).” This feature, he said, optimizes the enzyme’s accessibility and minimizes the loss of pressure between the entry and the end of the column.”

The enzymes are from silica macrocellular foam with lipases appearing at the macropore internal surface, according to Backov. To optimize the enzymes, the team generates the foams within the chromatography column using a direct emulsion. The silica foams are then hybridized with a linker, which traps the enzymes and embeds the enzymes into the porous surface. The enzymes are essentially embedded into a reactor with a unidirectional continuous flow, and rely on the larger size of the pores on the surface of the reactor and the properties of the silica framework within the reactor for a greater reaction area.

The enzymatic catalysts embedded into the chromatography tube not only mean the enzymes are more easily accessible for reactants, but the “natural hydration of the silica cellular support enhances enzymatic activity via a lubricating effect,” Backov said. And, because of the silica framework housing the enzymes, a high inlet pressure can be maintained allowing for a high reactant flow.

The team of researchers, including Backov, believes there are still two important steps left with its enzymatic reactor research. The first is to generate biodiesel from the process using a solvent-free catalysis reaction. The second step Backov and his team hope to take is to test the enzymatic reactor using waste oil feedstocks. 


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