Hydrogen-Free Catalytic Process To Create Renewable Diesel

    Project Overview

    Arunprakash Karunanithi
    University of Colorado Denver

    A safe, economic, and environmentally friendly means to convert biofuels into renewable diesel that does not require hydrogen gas and hence is less expensive, more safe and environmentally friendly. The project aims to assess the economic benefit of a new catalytic process that can convert lipids from nonfood oil crops (e.g. camelina, castor bean, jatropha, and algae and waste biomass) into renewable diesel fuel through an energy densification process using thermal decarboxylation, which does not utilize molecular hydrogen, to deoxygenate lipids and levulinic acid (derived from cellulosic biomass) to hydrocarbon fuels.

    Description of Technology:
    The commercial market for biodiesel is approximately 2.5 billion gallons per year and will grow rapidly in the near future due to the Renewable Fuels Standards (RFS-2) which establishes renewable fuel volume mandate in the United States. The global market for biofuels is expected to reach $280 billion by the year 2022. Renewable diesel refers to fuel produced from biomass that can be used as a direct substitute (not blend) to diesel fuels as renewable diesel is exactly identical to petroleum unlike other biofuels such as biodiesel (fatty acid methyl esters) and ethanol (alcohol).

    This invention aims to develop a decarboxylation process that does not require the use of molecular hydrogen. Lipids contain long chain fatty acids (in the form of triglycerides) and this process aims to deoxygenate (remove oxygen) the lipids to produce hydrocarbons. Deoxygenation processes that are currently being used in industry require significant amount of hydrogen gas (about 20-25 moles of H2 per mole of fatty acid). The use of hydrogen in the conversion process has three major drawbacks: 1) makes the conversion process expensive resulting in commercial infeasibility; 2) significant safety issues related to storage and transportation of hydrogen gas; 3) typical hydrogen production processes are based on fossil fuel and hence are non renewable. Indeed, it would be a significant breakthrough if a conversion process that does not utilize hydrogen is developed.

    The operating conditions are similar to current deoxygenation processes and hydrogen requirements are minimal to non-existent.

    Potential Benefits:
    Reducing the cost of biodiesel production

    Technology Development Progress Status:
    Laboratory scale validation of technology

    IP Status:
    At the end of the proposed project a patent application, will be filed.

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