Technology for Enhanced Biodiesel Economics

EPA Contract Number: EPD08061
Title: Technology for Enhanced Biodiesel Economics
Investigators: Kittrell, J. R.
Small Business: KSE Inc.
EPA Contact: Manager, SBIR Program
Phase: II
Project Period: May 1, 2008 through April 30, 2010
Project Amount: $225,000
RFA: Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) - Phase II (2008) Recipients Lists
Research Category: Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) , SBIR - Agriculture and Rural Community Improvement


The overall goal of this project is to complete the research and development of an innovative process technology to enhance the economics of biodiesel production, through upgrading the byproduct glycerol to a propane fuel (LPG), which (a) is widely used today, (b) has an existing distribution system, (c) can accommodate the large volumes of byproduct glycerol, and (d) which has attractive economics to support the biodiesel production. The KSE upgrading technology does not require extensive supporting services, such as a hydrogen plant. The technology produces “green” propane, derived solely from renewable materials that are byproducts of biodiesel manufacture.

If biodiesel is produced to meet only 3% of the U.S. diesel fuel demand, over 1.8 billion pounds of glycerol, also known as glycerin, will be coproduced. The current annual worldwide demand for glycerol is only 0.5 billion pounds. As a result, the oversupply of glycerol has already depressed glycerol prices in the U.S. and in Europe. Not only will biodiesel economics thereby be depressed, but also the physical disposition of byproduct glycerol becomes a challenge. Hence, to fully exploit the potential of biodiesel, an effective glycerol upgrading technology is needed, the project of the current proposed research.

The program entails the development of new catalyst compositions for the glycerol conversion reactions: laboratory studies demonstrating the performance of the technology, including catalyst activity and selectivity: and economic analyses and life cycle assessments to demonstrate economic performance. Based on Phase I results. technology can be developed which converts glycerol into "green" propane at uniquely high yields, producing a high valued biofuels product with a large and dispersed market. The technology is simple, does not require an external source of hydrogen, and is inexpensive to build and operate. Even with Phase I economics, the KSE technology provides propane at manufacturing costs substantially below market clearing prices for propane. When the development program is completed, the Phase II technology can he utilized today, with current prices, to produce "green" propane, and will support more rapid exploitation of biodiesel as a component of the national energy balance The Phase I technology is clearly technically feasible and economically viable. It. is anticipated that tile application of the technology will significantly improve the economics of biodiesel production for the dispersed group of biodiesel plants in the US, and provide an economic disposition for the major quantities of byproduct glycerol, thereby facilitating rapid introduction of economic biodiesel manufacturing operations.

Supplemental Keywords:

RFA, Scientific Discipline, Sustainable Industry/Business, Sustainable Environment, Economics, Technology for Sustainable Environment, Environmental Engineering, glycerol, environmental chemistry, alternative fuel, biodiesel fuel, propane fuel, alternative energy source

Progress and Final Reports:

  • Final Report

  • SBIR Phase I:

    Technology for Enhanced Biodiesel Economics  | Final Report