Microrefining of Waste Glycerol for the Production of a Value-Added Product

EPA Grant Number: SU833930
Title: Microrefining of Waste Glycerol for the Production of a Value-Added Product
Investigators: Frymier, Paul , Counce, Robert , Moore, Charles
Current Investigators: Counce, Robert , Frymier, Paul , Moore, Charles
Institution: University of Tennessee - Knoxville
EPA Project Officer: Nolt-Helms, Cynthia
Phase: I
Project Period: August 15, 2008 through August 14, 2009
Project Amount: $10,000
RFA: P3 Awards: A National Student Design Competition for Sustainability Focusing on People, Prosperity and the Planet (2008) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: P3 Challenge Area - Energy , Pollution Prevention/Sustainable Development , P3 Awards , Sustainability


Biodiesel is an excellent transportation fuel. It was developed as an alternate or a supplement to diesel fuel. It can be used in any existing diesel engine with little or no modifications. Normal diesel fuel currently powers freight trucks, trains, boats, barges, some sport utility vehicles and lighter trucks, and over two thirds of all farm equipment in the United States. Vehicles that are powered by diesel fuel can claim 20 to 40 percent better fuel economy than the same vehicle powered by gasoline. Because of their higher efficiency, diesel powered vehicles are used in many physically demanding jobs, such as construction work. The production of biodiesel results in a significant byproduct stream of crude glycerol, contaminated with methanol and caustic. In most large biodiesel production facilities, the waste stream is treated in an on-site refinery. However, many Americans produce their own biodiesel in smaller outfits, such as their own garage or in small biodiesel facilities that service a single fleet, such as the UT Biodiesel program on the campus of the University of Tennessee. This often leads to dumping of the waste stream down a drain or into the garbage. This can turn out to be problematic at the wastewater treatment facility, leading to a significant increase in COD in the plant influent. Also, the dumping of the useful byproduct stream wastes energy and increases carbon dioxide emissions. The destruction of potentially useful glycerol hinders the world’s pursuit of sustainability. The work proposed here will develop a prototype system for the small scale, or micro-refining of the glycerol produced locally by micro-manufacturers. We have identified a single point source (the UT Biodiesel program noted above) as an initial supplier of contaminated glycerol.


We will develop a benchscale process to refine the product to a purity sufficient for sale as a commodity chemical. We will minimize energy and materials inputs to the system and quantify the net material and energy balance of the process to assure true sustainability. A team of 5 chemical engineering undergraduates will design and prototype the process and will receive credit for their capstone design sequence. We will work with the UT Biodiesel program to distribute the results of the design study to the wider community as part of their outreach efforts. The PIs on the project have experience successfully managing a P3 project. This is a student-driven project, developed substantially by a student team of chemical engineering undergraduates who will take leadership roles in the project, if selected for funding.

Expected Results:

At the conclusion of this project, we will have accomplished the following: 1) identification of an economically viable market for the product of at least one process that reclaims glycerol from the production of biodiesel in small batch sizes, 2) a detailed economic analysis of the process, including annualized operating and capital costs, the return on investment, and the estimated payback period, 3) a design for the construction of equipment to carry out the process validated by experimental results on a bench scale, and 4) a proposal for how to implement the full scale facility to produce a valuable product from waste glycerol.

Publications and Presentations:

Publications have been submitted on this project: View all 1 publications for this project

Supplemental Keywords:

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

Progress and Final Reports:

  • Final Report