Commercialization of Solid Acid and Base Catalysts Derived from Biochar Optimized to Produce Biodiesel from Low Cost Oils

EPA Contract Number: EPD10065
Title: Commercialization of Solid Acid and Base Catalysts Derived from Biochar Optimized to Produce Biodiesel from Low Cost Oils
Investigators: Keith, Lawrence H
Small Business: Down to Earth Energy (formerly Mountain Creek Enterprises)
EPA Contact: Richards, April
Phase: II
Project Period: May 1, 2010 through April 30, 2012
Project Amount: $225,000
RFA: Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) - Phase II (2010) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: SBIR - Emission Reductions and Biofuels , Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR)


Down to Earth Energy will scale up and commercialize reusable and recoverable solid, porous acid and base catalysts for biodiesel production using biochar generated from agricultural and forestry residues (i.e., a sustainable biomass). The Phase I feasibility study using an acid catalyst made from biochar (peanut hulls, pine pellets, and pine chips) showed high efficiency methylation of fats and oils containing more than 11 percent free fatty acids (average of 98.4% ± 0.27% conversion at 65°C in 2 hours with acidic pine char). Scale-up of this new catalyst will have the greatest impact on commercialization because it will enable biodiesel to be made from inexpensive feedstocks like yellow grease, rendered fats, and other low quality fats and oils. Very recently, continuing its research beyond Phase I, Down to Earth Energy developed a novel base functionalized biochar from peanut hulls that is efficient for catalytic transesterification (100% conversion in 3 hours at 65°C). The use of a base catalyst will greatly reduce amounts of waste pollutants that are generated compared to current methodology that uses sodium or potassium hydroxide and generates more pollutants than biodiesel product.

First year activities will focus on: (1) optimizing production of the acid and base catalysts, (2) optimizing recovery and reuse of the acid and base catalysts, and (3) the design and development of pilot-scale, continuous-flow catalyst test beds. Scale-up research and commercialization activities will occur concurrently with the optimization of production and reuse of the two chars, and will involve reactor design specifications for batched slurry and continuous fixed-bed configurations; the effect of free fatty acid concentration, temperature, flow rate, and particle size on kinetics and reaction rates; and determination of optimal char volumes at practical industrial flow rates. Char production and engineering partnerships also will be formalized and production of the acid catalyst using a gaseous functionalization reagent will be evaluated in place of the current liquid phase production methods.

Supplemental Keywords:

small business, SBIR, EPA, biofuels, vehicle emissions reduction, acid catalyst, biomass, biochar, biodiesel, fatty acid, base catalyst, catalyst test beds, alternative fuel, sustainability, renewable energy, sustainable biomass, reusable solid acid catalyst, reusable solid base catalyst, agricultural residue, forestry residue,

Progress and Final Reports:

  • Final Report

  • SBIR Phase I:

    Feasibility Study to Produce Biodiesel from Low Cost Oils and New Catalysts Derived from Agricultural & Forestry Residues  | Final Report