2 alternative biodiesel processes unveiled at Biorefining show

By Ron Kotrba | September 15, 2011

The International Biorefining Conference & Trade Show in Houston wasn’t exclusively about biobased chemicals and next-gen biofuels. In fact, the event featured two speakers who presented novel biodiesel technologies that are on the verge of commercialization.

John Massingill, president of Advanced Materials and Processes, presented on his company’s fiber processor, which essentially consists of steel fibers between 8 and 150 microns in diameter, that can be used both as a device to clean crude crop oils and as a reactor to transesterify triglycerides into biodiesel and glycerin.

The technology can be used to remove soapstock, gums and free fatty acids from crude vegetable oils, allowing farmer cooperatives to increase their yields by not sending out more valuable fractions of the oil as cheaper soapstock, which only sells for 5 to 10 cents a pound. The fiber processor operates via a polar phase whereby some of the liquid “runs down the fibers, with the other running around the fibers.”

If this technology sounds farfetched—and even farther from commercialization—it’s not. Massingill said it’s going commercial next quarter at Valley Co-op in Harlingen, Texas, in a 13 MMgy cottonseed crush facility. While the cottonseed plant is being outfitted with the technology, the co-op’s 3 MMgy Greenline Industries plant (Valco Bioenergy) is also being retrofitted to use the fiber processor for biodiesel production.

Matthew Kropf, director of the Energy Institute and Assistant Professor of Petroleum Technology at the University of Pittsburgh Bradford, who is also a research associate and adjunct professor of engineering science and mechanics at Penn State, said he chose this opportunity at the International Biorefining Conference & Trade Show in Houston to unveil his new biodiesel approach, named Multi Energy Optimized Processing.

Under development for four years, the process combines ultrasonic cavitation and microwave heating, which Kropf said reduces the energy required to make biodiesel and the costs associated with catalyst use by enhancing the reaction rates through process intensification approaching supercritical reaction.

MEOP involves the dielectric permeation of material where only the methanol is being heated via microwaves, not the oil, which saves energy. “You don’t need supercritical, you need the methanol stable and heated at the right frequencies,” he said. Stable in emulsion, he said the process can get the methanol temperatures up to 145 degrees Celsius. “It’s stable by using the right frequency of emulsion,” Kropf said.

Early on, Kropf converted a kitchen microwave and tied in ultrasonics, but household microwaves are multimode, so he moved on to develop a 10 gallon per hour pilot using a single-mode microwave. The process used less than 0.2 percent catalyst, which he said is less than half the industry standard, and only 1 kilowatt of energy for the microwave input with 50 watts of energy input for the ultrasonics. It achieved 99.8 percent conversion efficiency. The work was then scaled up and demonstrated at 30 gallons per hour.

Kropf’s research was funded by AE Resources Inc., which holds exclusive rights to the technology. Chris Getty, president of AE Resources, told Biodiesel Magazine that the MEOP biodiesel process only requires 600 Btu per gallon compared to what he said is around 4,200 Btu for conventional biodiesel processing.

Kropf and AE Resources are now looking for partners to take the technology commercial. 


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