Designer catalysts for biodiesel synthesis

Karen Wilson, Jean-Philippe Dacquin, Adam F. Lee

Research output: Unpublished contribution to conferenceAbstract


The combination of dwindling oil reserves and growing concerns over carbon dioxide emissions and associated climate change is driving the urgent development of clean, sustainable energy supplies. Biodiesel is a non-toxic and biodegradable fuel, with the potential for closed CO2 cycles and thus vastly reduced carbon footprints compared with petroleum. However, current manufacturing routes employing soluble catalysts are very energy inefficient, with their removal necessitating an energy intensive separation to purify biodiesel, which in turn produces copious amounts of contaminated aqueous waste. The introduction of non-food based feedstocks and technical advances in heterogeneous catalyst and reactor design are required to ensure that biodiesel remains a key player in the renewable energy sector for the 21st century.
Here we report on the development of tuneable solid acid and bases for biodiesel synthesis, which offer several process advantages by eliminating the quenching step and allowing operation in a continuous reactor. Significant progress has been made towards developing tuneable solid base catalysts for biodiesel synthesis, including Li/CaO [1], Mg-Al hydrotalcites [2] and calcined dolomite [3] which exhibit excellent activity for triglyceride transesterification. However, the effects of solid base strength on catalytic activity in biodiesel synthesis remains poorly understood, hampering material optimisation and commercial exploitation. To improve our understanding of factors influencing solid base catalysts for biodiesel synthesis, we have applied a simple spectroscopic method for the quantitative determination of surface basicity which is independent of adsorption probes. Such measurements reveal how the morphology and basicity of MgO nanocrystals correlate with their biodiesel synthesis activity [4].
While diverse solid acids and bases have been investigated for TAG transesterification, the micro and mesoporous nature of catalyst systems investigated to date are not optimal for the diffusion of bulky and viscous C16-C18 TAGs typical of plant oils. The final part of this presentation will address the benefits of designing porous networks comprising interconnected hierarchical macroporous and mesoporous channels (Figure 1) to enhance mass-transport properties of viscous plant oils during biodiesel synthesis [5].
[1] R.S. Watkins, A.F. Lee, K. Wilson, Green Chem., 2004, 6, 335.
[2]D.G. Cantrell, L.J. Gillie, A.F. Lee and K. Wilson, Appl. Catal. A, 2005, 287,183.
[3] C. Hardacre, A.F. Lee, J.M. Montero, L. Shellard, K.Wilson, Green Chem., 2008, 10, 654.
[4] J.M. Montero, P.L. Gai, K. Wilson, A.F. Lee, Green Chem., 2009, 11, 265.
[5] J. Dhainaut, J.-P. Dacquin, A.F. Lee, K. Wilson, Green Chem., 2010, 12, 296.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages2
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2010
Event17th Joint Conference of CSCST & SCI - University of Oxford, Oxford, United Kingdom
Duration: 9 Oct 2010 → …


Conference17th Joint Conference of CSCST & SCI
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom
Period9/10/10 → …
OtherChemical Science & Technology towards a Low-carbon Economy


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