Novel Reactor Design for Biodiesel Production

EPA Grant Number: SU834015
Title: Novel Reactor Design for Biodiesel Production
Investigators: Cairncross, Richard A. , Cernansky, Nicholas P.
Institution: Drexel University
EPA Project Officer: Nolt-Helms, Cynthia
Phase: II
Project Period: August 15, 2008 through August 14, 2010
Project Amount: $74,960
RFA: P3 Awards: A National Student Design Competition for Sustainability Focusing on People, Prosperity and the Planet - Phase 2 (2008) Recipients Lists
Research Category: Pollution Prevention/Sustainable Development , P3 Challenge Area - Energy , P3 Challenge Area - Materials & Chemicals , P3 Awards , Sustainability


The goal of this project is to scale-up a novel reactor for producing Biodiesel from alternative feedstocks. Biodiesel is an alternative fuel that can be produced from a wide variety of plant oils, animal oils and waste oils from food processing. The conventional feedstocks for Biodiesel production are refined vegetable oils (triglycerides) produced by intensively-managed high-value food crops such as soybeans. The reactor being designed in this project is especially suited for low-value waste oils such as yellow grease and trap grease. Many waste oils and alternative plant oils contain a significant amount of Free Fatty Acids (FFA), which lead to excessive soap production and low conversion to Biodiesel using the conventional reactors. The novel reactor in this project uses acid catalysts that do not produce soaps and runs at higher temperatures that boil the methanol – so methanol bubbles rise through a column of oil and react with the oil to produce biodiesel. The bubbling methanol provides agitation and removes the by-product water enabling higher overall conversion to biodiesel. Our results show that this reactor is robust for converting oils to Biodiesel over the full range of FFA composition (from 100% triglycerides to 100% FFA).

Expected Results:

In Phase II of this EPA P3 project, the bubble column reactor design will be optimized and scaled up to pilot scale. The prototype reactor will be used to measure reaction rate constants and mass transfer coefficients for water and methanol. A detailed mathematical model of the bubble reactor will be developed. There is a trade-off between faster intrinsic kinetics and higher methanol volatility at higher temperatures. The bubble reactor model will be used to determine appropriate scaling parameters for bubble column reactor and to construct and test a pilot scale reactor. Results from the experiments and model will be used to for a detailed economic feasibility study of a large-scale production in the USA and small-scale production in rural developing communities. Because this reactor is more robust for various oil compositions and for contamination of the feed with water, this reactor may be appropriate for a wide range of applications in both industrialized and developing nations.

Publications and Presentations:

Publications have been submitted on this project: View all 10 publications for this project

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, Environmental Engineering, sustainable development, environmental sustainability, alternative materials, biomass, energy efficiency, energy technology, alternative fuel, biodiesel fuel, alternative energy source

Relevant Websites:

Phase 1 Abstract
Phase 1 Final Report

Progress and Final Reports:

  • 2009 Progress Report
  • Final Report

  • P3 Phase I:

    Novel Reactor Design for Biodiesel Production  | Final Report