Friday, January 15, 2010

Smart Chemistry: Catalysing a Better Biodiesel

Turning plant oils into high quality liquid fuels is not easy. Most biodiesels are actually methyl or ethyl esters, rather than pure hydrocarbons. They may not perform the same as petro-diesel -- particularly at cold temperatures. In addition, if you can create pure hydrocarbons, you can refine them into any hydrocarbon fuel that you want.

A new, potentially low cost catalytic process that produces hydrocarbons instead of esters, has been announced by researchers at Applied Research Associates' labs in Florida.
Benefits of the non-ester fuels can include higher energy content than alcohols or ester-based fuels; excellent combustion quality, similar to Fischer-Tropsch fuels (low soot and high cetane); good low-temperature properties (viscosity, freeze point, pour point, and cloud point); and superior thermal stability, storage stability, and materials compatibility.

...The process involves three main production steps:
The CH process that converts triglyceride to biocrude. The CH reaction is the key conversion step in the triglyceride to biofuel process.
Decarboxylation and hydrotreatment of the biocrude resulting from step 1.
Fractionation of the resulting non-ester biofuel into JP-8, naval distillate, and gasoline cuts. _GCC
Of course, you have to grow the bio-oils first, before you can convert them to jet fuel, diesel, and gasoline.

In other biofuels news, researchers in Thailand are looking at sweet sorghum as an alternative to sugar cane -- as an ethanol feedstock.
Thailand's current ethanol production depends on cassava and sugarcane, both of which are winter crops.

"Sweet sorghum would be the new option for the ethanol producer. Since farm products are seasonal, which we cannot control, we need different crops in different seasons to ensure we have raw materials all through the year," said Mr Krairit. Feedstock prices would also be less volatile, he added.

Sweet sorghum supplies would be ready in the rainy season, said Mr Krairit.

Khon Kaen University began research and development into sweet sorghum at its fields and laboratories several years ago after it found the crop's high sugar content could suit production of ethanol as well as sugar.

"We also plan to develop further products from sweet sorghum. We think it could be a material for bioplastic as well as chemical substances for food ingredients."

India and China are also looking at developing sweet sorghum as a raw material to secure ethanol raw materials, he said.

Sugarcane is currently cheaper than sweet sorghum as a source for ethanol in Thailand but sorghum could be competitive when cane and cassava are out of season, he said. _BangkokPost_via_Biofuelsdigest
Sorghum has a much wider climate range than sugar cane, is more resistant to cold, and requires less water.

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