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Sweet And Oily Biodiesel Cocktail

Coprocessing carbohydrates and triglycerides derived from plant seeds significantly boosts biodiesel production

by Stephen K. Ritter
February 22, 2010 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 88, Issue 8

By coprocessing carbohydrates and triglycerides derived from plant seeds, Mark Mascal and Edward B. Nikitin of the University of California, Davis, have created a novel technology that stands to substantially increase biodiesel production from oil crops (Energy Fuels, DOI: 10.1021/ef9013373). Mascal and Nikitin previously developed a biphasic acid/solvent reactor for converting plant sugars or cellulosic material into 5-(chloromethyl)furfural (CMF), with levulinic acid as a minor product. Treating CMF with ethanol at room temperature forms 5-(ethoxymethyl)furfural, which is being developed as a biofuel and chemical feedstock. The researchers have now discovered that processing oil seeds in their reactor simultaneously forms CMF from the carbohydrates and extracts the triglycerides. Treating the CMF and triglyceride mixture with ethanol at 200 °C forms ethyl levulinate and standard biodiesel ethyl esters—a new biodiesel formulation. When starting with whole safflower seeds, the merged process produced 24% more bio­diesel than processing just the seed oil, as is normally done. Mascal’s group is collaborating with Nevada-based Bently Biofuels to test biodiesel blends containing levulinate esters, which have lower molecular weights than typical fatty acid biodiesel esters and should reduce cold-weather performance problems associated with biodiesel.


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