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Novel Reactor Design for Biodiesel Production

EPA Grant Number: SU833524
Title: Novel Reactor Design for Biodiesel Production
Investigators: Cairncross, Richard A. , Cernansky, Nicholas P. , Melick, Cory , Mohammed, Minhazuddin , Okpalanne, Joshua
Current Investigators: Cairncross, Richard A. , Cavan, Chad , Cernansky, Nicholas P. , Cochran, David , Leone, Lisa , Lucchesi, Jared , Melick, Cory , Okpalanne, Joshua , Ruiz, Africa , Serina, Michael , Shustack, Matthew , Temple, Joshua , Vena, Nicholas , Wilson, Brittany , Wilson, Timothy
Institution: Drexel University
EPA Project Officer: Nolt-Helms, Cynthia
Project Period: August 31, 2007 through July 31, 2008
Project Amount: $9,975
RFA: P3 Awards: A National Student Design Competition for Sustainability Focusing on People, Prosperity and the Planet (2007)
Research Category: Pollution Prevention/Sustainable Development , P3 Challenge Area - Energy



Most current biodiesel processes use refined vegetable oils as the oil feedstock. However, there are many potential sources non-food oils and waste greases that react poorly in these processes due to a high content of free-fatty-acids. This project will design a novel two-phase reactor in which methanol vapor bubbles through hot oil and the by-product water is removed continuously as a vapor. Four objectives will be achieved in Phase I of this project: (1) measuring semi-batch reaction kinetics, (2) applying a mass transfer and reaction model to the semi-batch reactor, (3) performing a feasibility study of the economic, environmental and social impacts of a biodiesel plant using this reactor, and (4) preliminary design of a continuous, two-phase, countercurrent flow reactor to be constructed and tested in Phase II.


Prior research from Kocsisova et al. (2005) showed that bubbling methanol and catalyst through a hot oil containing free-fatty-acids can produce high conversion to biodiesel. In this project, semi-batch reactor experiments and mathematical modeling will be used to determine kinetic and transport parameters governing the performance of a two-phase reactor. Then the reactor model will be used to complete a feasibility study and design of a pilot-scale reactor.

Biodiesel is a renewable fuel produced from agricultural products or wastes. While biodiesel cannot meet all of the world’s liquid fuel needs, it can help ease the growing energy demand in third world countries. The type of reactor to be developed in this project should be more flexible and robust for varying feed oil composition than current biodiesel reactors. The reactor may also be more effective at utilizing ethanol as the feed alcohol and at dealing with water impurities than current reactors.

Expected Results:

The primary outcome of the Phase I project will be a feasibility study for a biodiesel process using this novel reactor compared to traditional biodiesel processing. In Phase II, a continuous pilot-scale version of the reactor will be constructed and tested. The experimental design, modeling, and feasibility studies will be implemented by students from Chemical & Biological Engineering and Mechanical Engineering.

Supplemental Keywords:

sustainability, biofuel, soybean oil, trap grease, FAME, FFA,, RFA, Scientific Discipline, Sustainable Industry/Business, POLLUTION PREVENTION, Environmental Chemistry, Sustainable Environment, Energy, Technology for Sustainable Environment, Engineering, Environmental Engineering, sustainable development, environmental sustainability, alternative materials, biomass, energy efficiency, energy technology, alternative fuel, biodiesel fuel, alternative energy source

Relevant Websites:

Phase 2 Abstract

Progress and Final Reports:
Final Report

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The perspectives, information and conclusions conveyed in research project abstracts, progress reports, final reports, journal abstracts and journal publications convey the viewpoints of the principal investigator and may not represent the views and policies of ORD and EPA. Conclusions drawn by the principal investigators have not been reviewed by the Agency.

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