Graduation Year

2016

Document Type

Thesis

Degree

M.S.C.H.

Degree Name

MS in Chemical Engineering (M.S.C.H.)

Degree Granting Department

Chemical Engineering

Major Professor

Aydin K. Sunol, Ph.D.

Co-Major Professor

George P. Philippidis, Ph.D.

Committee Member

John N. Kuhn, Ph.D.

Keywords

Factorial Design, Gas Chromatography, Methyl Esters, Supercritical Alcohol, Transesterification, Vegetable Oils

Abstract

The slow yet steady expansion of the global economies, has led to an increased demand for energy and fuel, which would eventually lead to shortage of fossil fuel resources in the near future. Consequently, researchers have been investigating other fuels like biodiesel. Biodiesel refers to the monoalkyl esters which can be derived from a wide range of sources like vegetable oils, animal fats, algae lipids and waste greases. Currently, biodiesel is largely produced by the conventional route, using an acid, a base or an enzyme catalyst. Drawbacks associated with this route result in higher production costs and longer processing times. Conversely, supercritical transesterification presents several advantages over conventional transesterification, such as, faster reaction rates, catalyst free reaction, less product purification steps and higher yields.

This work focused on the supercritical transesterification of cooking oil, soybean in particular. The experimental investigation was conducted using methanol at supercritical conditions. These conditions were milder in terms of pressure than those reported in literature. A batch setup was designed, built and used to carry out the supercritical transesterification reactions. The biodiesel content was analyzed using gas chromatography-mass spectrometry to calculate reaction yields. Methyl ester yield of 90% was achieved within 10 minutes of reaction time using supercritical transesterification. A maximum yield of 97% was achieved with this process in 50 minutes of reaction time. Two key factors, temperature and molar ratio were studied using variance analysis and linear regression and their significance on the biodiesel yield was determined. The kinetic tendency of the reaction was investigated and the values of rate constants, activation energy and the pre-exponential factor were estimated.

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