Integration of Systems Engineering and Process Intensification in the Design of Processes for Utilizing Biobased Glycerol

EPA Grant Number: SU834699
Title: Integration of Systems Engineering and Process Intensification in the Design of Processes for Utilizing Biobased Glycerol
Investigators: Seay, Jeffrey R. , Lu, Y. Charles
Current Investigators: Seay, Jeffrey R. , Hayden, Ryan , Lu, Y. Charles , Rezek, Richard , Thomas, Jacob , Whipple, Wesley
Institution: University of Kentucky
EPA Project Officer: Nolt-Helms, Cynthia
Phase: I
Project Period: August 15, 2010 through August 14, 2011
Project Amount: $10,000
RFA: P3 Awards: A National Student Design Competition for Sustainability Focusing on People, Prosperity and the Planet (2010) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Pollution Prevention/Sustainable Development , P3 Challenge Area - Energy , P3 Challenge Area - Materials & Chemicals , P3 Awards , Sustainability


Biodiesel is an important renewable motor fuel. The use of biofuels like biodiesel is important to people, prosperity and the planet since it is produced from renewable feedstocks like vegetable oils or animal fats. However, the production of biodiesel from oils and fats also generates glycerol as a side product. The purpose of this design project is to develop an integrated process to utilize this crude glycerol in a way that improves the economic performance of the biodiesel production process. Recent research indicates that numerous chemical products currently produced from crude oil derived propylene can also be produced from the dehydration of bio-based glycerol. Products based on C3 chemistry such as acrylic acid, acrolein, 1,2-propanediol, 1,3-propanediol, propionaldehyde and hydroxyacetone can be manufactured from catalytic dehydration of glycerol. The objective of this project will be a comprehensive mechanical and process design of an integrated process to manufacture these products from renewable, bio-based glycerol. Developing economically viable uses for crude glycerol can potentially improve not only the economic performance of biodiesel production operations, but also increase the overall carbon utilization of biodiesel production.


The approach taken to achieve the design objectives will be an integrated, multidisciplinary approach combining laboratory experimentation and catalyst optimization with advanced analysis and systems engineering tools such as finite element analysis, process intensification, process simulation and energy integration. This research will be multidisciplinary in nature, integrating process systems engineering with process intensification, mechanical equipment design and configuration and thermal performance analysis.

Expected Results:

The expected results include an integrated process and mechanical design including a fabrication plan for the glycerol dehydration reactor, comprehensive heat and material balance, environmental impact assessment and comprehensive safety review. The resulting process design will be appropriately scaled to be implemented by smaller scale biodiesel producers. Furthermore, an integrated thermal analysis will be conducted to ensure that the final proposed design is based on utilizing the minimum amount of external energy. In addition, the multidisciplinary student team will create a lab scale mini-plant to validate their proposed process and mechanical designs.

Supplemental Keywords:

Biofuel, Green Chemistry;

Progress and Final Reports:

  • Final Report