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Brown University chemists simplify biodiesel conversion
Date:10/7/2010

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] As the United States seeks to lessen its reliance on foreign oil, biodiesel is expected to play a role. According to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, a branch of the Department of Energy, biodiesel "represents a significant energy resource and could someday supply 3 percent to 5 percent of the distillate fuel market."

One major obstacle to achieving that goal is figuring how to efficiently convert the abundant stocks of waste vegetable oil (oil used after cooking French fries, for example) into biodiesel fuel. Current techniques take time, are costly and are inefficient. Worse, the conversion requires the toxic chemicals sulfuric acid and either potassium hydroxide or sodium hydroxide.

That's where Brown University chemist Jason Sello and postdoctoral researcher Aaron Socha come in. They write in the journal Organic & Biomolecular Chemistry that they were able to convert waste vegetable oil to biodiesel in a single reaction vessel using environmentally friendly catalysts. Their process is also six times faster than current methods for converting waste vegetable oil to biodiesel, so it consumes less energy.

"We wanted to develop an environmentally benign and technically simple way to convert waste vegetable oil into biodiesel," said Sello, assistant professor of chemistry. "The production of energy at the expense of the environment is untenable and should be avoided at all costs."

Waste vegetable oil is made up of triacylglycerols, free fatty acids, and water. The conventional way to convert waste vegetable oil into biodiesel requires two separate reactions. The first reaction turns the free fatty acids into biodiesel, but that conversion requires sulfuric acid. The second reaction converts the triacylglycerols into biodiesel, but that conversion requires sodium hydroxide or potassium hydroxide. Sodium hydroxide/potassium hydroxide and sulfuric acid are not compatible with each
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Contact: Richard Lewis
Richard_Lewis@brown.edu
401-863-3766
Brown University
Source:Eurekalert  

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