A Robust Process for Biodiesel Production Using Supercritical Methanol

EPA Grant Number: SU833926
Title: A Robust Process for Biodiesel Production Using Supercritical Methanol
Investigators: Thoma, Greg , Babcock, Robert E. , Hestekin, Jamie , Penney, Roy
Current Investigators: Babcock, Robert E. , Hestekin, Jamie , Penney, Roy , Thoma, Greg
Institution: University of Arkansas - Fayetteville
EPA Project Officer: Nolt-Helms, Cynthia
Phase: I
Project Period: August 15, 2008 through August 14, 2009
Project Amount: $9,798
RFA: P3 Awards: A National Student Design Competition for Sustainability Focusing on People, Prosperity and the Planet (2008) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Pollution Prevention/Sustainable Development , P3 Challenge Area - Energy , P3 Awards , Sustainability


To evaluate the use of super critical methanol as a reaction medium in which both triglycerides and free fatty acids can be converted into methyl esters without the addition of acid or base catalysts.


The conventional base-catalyzed method of biodiesel production is inappropriate for the conversion of high free fatty acid-containing feedstocks due to undesired saponification. Likewise acid-catalyzed biodiesel production is not appropriate for the conversion of tryglyceride-containing feedstocks due to the long reaction times and large excess of methanol required. In this project a student team will evaluate the use of supercritical methanol treatment, which requires no separate catalyst, for production of biodiesel from variable composition feedstock. This project will focus on development and optimization of a robust process for conversion of a variety of bio-oils to biodiesel.

The laboratory testing will use a Parr Instruments 4520 series, 2-L reactor in which an evaluation of the production of biodiesel under a variety of supercritical methanol conditions. The parameters to be evaluated include reaction time, temperature, pressure and methanol to feedstock ratio. Further work investigating the life cycle of biodiesel will include analysis of embodied energy (does it reduce fossil fuel dependence) as well as an assessment of global warming potential and potential negative effects associated with greater NOx emissions.

Expected Results:

Proof-of-concept verification that supercritical methanol treatment of bio-oils is a feasible alternate technology for biodiesel production which can lead to a re-localization of liquid fuel supplies.

Supplemental Keywords:

sustainable energy, renewable fuel, biodiesel,, RFA, Scientific Discipline, Sustainable Industry/Business, POLLUTION PREVENTION, Environmental Chemistry, Sustainable Environment, Energy, Technology for Sustainable Environment, Environmental Engineering, sustainable development, environmental sustainability, alternative materials, biomass, energy efficiency, energy technology, alternative fuel, biodiesel fuel, carbon credits, alternative energy source

Progress and Final Reports:

  • Final Report