Project Number: 8072-41000-093-02-I
Project Type: Interagency Reimbursable Agreement
Start Date: Sep 1, 2013
End Date: Aug 31, 2018
The objectives of the proposal are: (1) improving the calcination-based catalyst activation protocol; (2) improving the branched-chain product purification process; (3) demonstrating the production of branched-chain fatty acids at multi-kilogram scale and optimizing experimental procedures for pilot-scale studies to be carried out in industrial collaborators’ labs; (4) modeling the unit production cost of the process to establish the potential of this skeletal isomerization reaction in commercial production of branched-chain products; and (5) conducting a life cycle analysis of the process.
The USDA’s Agricultural Research Service, along with a university partner, proposes a research program focused on developing environmentally friendly and economically feasible processes for a high-value biobased product, namely branched-chain fatty acids. Branched-chain fatty acids are excellent replacements for petroleum-based lubricants because of their superior performance and their nontoxic and biodegradable nature. The proposed project will focus on three different aspects. First, we will screen for optimum solid acid catalysts with well-defined nano-channels for efficient skeletal isomerization of fatty acids. Each catalyst system is expected to produce slightly different compositions of the branched-chain product which will affect their physical properties (i.e. the cloud and pour points, viscosity index and lubricity properties). Much more work is needed in order to understand how each catalytic system works in order to improve the processes. Second, we will optimize reaction conditions for engineering pilot-scale production of branched-chain fatty acids. Finally, we will evaluate the suitability of branched-chain products for use as biolubricants. By improving the catalytic system and by optimizing the process, the proposed work will facilitate the transfer of this technology to industrial partners/licensees for commercial scale production of biolubricants. In collaboration with on-site process engineers, we will expand and modify our previously-constructed process model to estimate capital and operational costs of the optimized technology. This proposal intends to discover solid acid catalysts that are more efficient than industry is using now, and we have to partner with collaborators at University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill to accomplish this. The ERRC site is not equipped to design, develop and characterize the catalysts, which is key to optimizing the production process for the branched-chain fatty acid. Partnering with an academic institution will leverage their comprehensive analytical capabilities to help us accomplish the goals of this research project.