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14 August 2009

Japanese Research Group Succeeds in Catalyst-Free Biodiesel Production Test

A Japanese research group announced that it has succeeded in the world's first pilot-scale production of biodiesel fuel (BDF) using a non-catalytic superheated methanol vapor method. The research group consists of the National Food Research Institute of the National Agriculture and Food Research Organization, the University of Tokyo, the University of Shiga Prefecture and Kajima Corp.

BDF is produced by the processes of extracting fatty acids from oil molecules, reacting them with methanol and thus converting fatty acids to fatty acid methyl ester (FAME). Currently, the widely used method to produce BDF is the alkaline catalyzed method that uses an alkaline catalyst such as caustic soda to accelerate the reaction. This method, however, requires a complex production process and generates wastewater to be treated. Therefore it has disadvantages in terms of cost and environmental friendliness.

With the new method, announced on December 12, 2008, it is possible to produce FAME through the reaction of heated raw oil with high-temperature methanol vapor at near-atmospheric pressure without the use of a catalyst. This makes the production process simple and minimizes the discharge of wastewater, while generating highly pure glycerol which is recovered as a by-product.

The group has confirmed the production of 425 liters per day of FAME from waste oil containing mainly palm oil in a pilot plant which has a continuous production capacity of more than 400 liters of BDF from 500 liters per day of raw oil material. They will continue to collect data in the plant with an aim of commercializing the method.

- The National Agriculture and Food Research Organization (NARO) official website

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