Fats, Oils and Animal Coproducts Research Unit
New Method to Produce Biodiesel
Research under the direction of Dr. Michael J. Haas, Research Chemist, Fats, Oils and Animal Coproducts Research Unit, has shown that biodiesel, a renewable substitute for diesel fuel and made from vegetable oil or animal fat, need not require the initial isolation of the oil or fat before its chemical conversion to the biofuel. Dr. Haas's team developed and conducted initial performance analysis of a simple chemical method, termed in situ transesterification, that allows the direct use of intact oilseeds and products of the rendering industry as sources of oil for biodiesel production. The residual material still retains its value and utility as an animal feed ingredient. This method should offer a reduction in the cost of production of biodiesel, since the extraction steps commonly employed to isolate the oil prior to biodiesel production with contemporary technology would no longer be required. In collaboration with ERRC’s Cost Engineer, Mr. Andrew McAloon, the team constructed a quantitative computer model and performed an economic analysis to simulate the process on soy flakes and estimate the cost of biodiesel production. In turn, the model highlighted steps that would lead to further cost reductions. Through subsequent research, the researchers have successfully modified the original protocol and reduced its cost of operation. An economic analysis using the new conditions shows that predicted process costs have been reduced by 64%, a very significant advance in the effort to reduce the cost of biodiesel production. The process, for which a patent application has been filed, is being expanded to examine other oil-bearing feedstocks.