By Ron Kotrba | December 31, 2013

Welcome to the process technology and plant optimization issue of Biodiesel Magazine. Once again, the U.S. biodiesel industry finds itself in a fight for its life as EPA’s renewable volume obligation (RVO) proposal for biodiesel under the renewable fuel standard (RFS) seeks, in effect, to reduce biodiesel growth without justification. The 60-day comment period ends late January, and hopefully you have made your voices heard. But couple the possibility of a stalled, or effectively reduced, biodiesel RVO with the potential for another year without the biodiesel tax credit—the third lapse in five years—and the outlook goes from grim to worse. 

In preparation for such policy catastrophes, some producers have relied on technologies to get them through the storm: technologies that allow use of lower-cost, lower-quality feedstock; and technologies that simplify operations, reduce chemical inputs, and ultimately widen the potential for profit, even without a tax credit, boosted RVO or robust RIN prices. “Our work is such that we do not need any form of assistance or subsidy,” says Sunil Suri, a principal and managing member of Menlo Capital Group, speaking of Menlo Energy’s Clean Carbon Technology and a future where federal mandates and incentives are in question. “Our business is profitable without any such largesse.” Menlo’s suite of technologies, which employs heterogeneous catalysis, is being installed in several plants across the U.S.

Jatrodiesel is building its first commercial supercritical biodiesel plant, co-located with the Patriot Renewable Fuels LLC ethanol plant in Annawan, Ill. Jatrodiesel President Raj Mosali says the Super process can handle any level of FFA without use of acid or base catalysts, the advantages of which are savings in catalyst costs, simplicity of the process, true multifeedstock capability and high-quality glycerin. For more on these, and other, process technologies being deployed today, check out “Low-Cost Biodiesel Production” on page 28. 

We also dive into a recently issued patent from retired Texas Tech University chemical engineering professor Uzi Mann. Mann and his former post-doc student Stan Emets found that atomizing methanol into the feedstock stream eliminates limitations of interfacial surface area and creates a homogeneous phase between the two reactants, thereby speeding the reaction, reducing methanol inputs and simplifying downstream operations. Mann and Emets subsequently discovered using biodiesel as a cosolvent, recycled from the backend of the process to the reactor inlet, also creates a homogeneous phase between the two reactants and eliminates the need to atomize methanol. For the full story, read “Elegant Engineering” on page 20. 

In addition, Viesel Fuel discusses its commercialization of enzymatic processing on page 34, Hero BX talks about its recent plant expansion on page 7, and much more. And if you’re reading this in sunny San Diego at the 2014 National Biodiesel Conference & Expo, enjoy the show!


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