Biodiesel and Production Challenge

Fossil fuel as the primary source of energy has caused many problems such as the energy crisis, environmental pollution, and climate change. Such environmental issues are receiving a great deal of attention across the globe. Current environmental issues and resource sustainability are driving the global development of renewable energy, such as the use of biodiesel. 

Biodiesel as a replacement of petroleum-based diesel can have much lower emissions. A sketch figure gives 86% reduction in greenhouse gases, 47% less in particulate matter, and 67% cut in hydrocarbon emission. Biodiesel is biodegradable and provides excellent lubricity. It is derived from remarkable plant oils, animal fats, and used cooking oils.

Biodiesel is used worldwide and has become increasingly popular. Global biodiesel production is expected to increase from 36 billion liters in 2017 to 39 billion liters by 2027Unfortunately, high cost is still a main barrier hindering biodiesel production at commercial scale.

Biodiesel Production

The diagram below shows the conversion of plant oil or animal fat into biodiesel of fatty acid esters. Converting oil or fat into biodiesel involves two processes, regardless of the type of catalyst used: transesterification and esterification. When the feedstock is triglyceride/oil/fat, the process is call a transesterification reaction. When the feedstock is fatty acid, the process is called an esterification reaction. Biodiesel is also commonly referred to as fatty acid methyl ester (FAME) since the most common alcohol reactant is methanol.

Technology Challenges

Currently, there are two established methods for biodiesel production: chemical and enzymatic approaches. Problems persist for both the chemical and conventional enzymatic approaches.

Challenges in Chemical Approach

Inflexible Feedstock

Feedstock with high Free Fatty Acid (FFA)  is undesirable. There would be an unwanted reaction between FFA and alkaline catalyst to form soap. Further, it will create an emulsion which makes it difficult to separate biodiesel from byproducts (soap, glycerin).  Separation step can result in biodiesel yield loss. On the other hand, feedstock with low FFA will cost more. Two processes are involved for high FFA feedstock.

Pretreatment

Feedstock with high FFA should be treated to lessen FFA and water. Neutralization or acid esterification as pretreatment are needed before alkali transesterification to convert the FFA. This pretreatment process cause loss in feedstock, while also means additional cost and time.

Wastewater
There would be water washing step to remove remaining catalyst, soap, and salts from biodiesel. This process result in the generation of large amount of wastewater.

Challenges in Conventional Enzymatic Biodiesel Process

Compared to chemical approach, enzymatic reaction is more advantageous because of no saponification, easier purification, no wastewater generation, mild reaction condition, and higher product quality. However, current enzymatic biodiesel can not overcome lipase poison problem and result in some inefficiency.

High Operating Cost

High operating cost is related to high lipase consumption. This process needs high consumption of lipase due to lipase deactivation by glycerol droplet that shorten its lifespan. Furthermore, the residual fatty acids, mono-, and diglycerides need to be treated in another way.

Lengthy Reaction Time

The use of conventional enzymatic process will lead to a long reaction time. Typical reaction time for enzyme transesterification is 12 - 24 hours or even longer.

Our Solution

The cost of feedstocks is a big burden since it occupies 70- 85 % of production cost of biodiesel. The cheapest alternative  is the use of feedstock from nonedible and waste. However, utilization of the chemical approach won't be efficient due to the high FFA in such kind of feedstock. While, the conventional enzymatic process will incur high lipase cost or just be a  pretreatment for alkaline process.

A new enzymatic transesterification process (ET Process®, patented), has been developed to address prevailing concerns about biodiesel production technology. This technology would allow flexible feedstock, lower lipase consumption, shorter reaction time, high value-added byproducts, no wastewater, and no hazardous waste.