With the rising energy crisis, fossil fuel dependence is not sustainable. In the long run, developing alternative sources of energy is necessary. Energy security for the United States and other oil importing nations is an escalating issue which has diverted much focus and research towards biofuels. Biofuels, a renewable source of energy, are readily produced from a variety of biomass materials.
Biodiesel, a fatty acid methyl esters, has seen increased use and can be harnessed from plant oils and animal fats. Production of biodiesel requires the extraction of the oils, essentially triglycerides, which can then be transformed into biodiesel via transesterification. We are using supercritical carbon dioxide, a benign solvent, to perform extraction prior to a heterogeneous catalyzed transesterification. The differential solubility of biomass constituents in supercritical carbon dioxide allows for fractionation in which only the targeted compounds are extracted. As a result, other value-added products can be isolated which will enhance bio-refinery and boost the value of this process.
We are currently evaluating the effect of substrate composition on reaction kinetics during the transesterification process by varying the degree of unsaturation and the carbon chain length.
Overall, this study will help us gain a deeper understanding of the system conditions critical to the biomass conversion process. Using our data to create a model will be very useful, as it will help us tailor the conditions necessary for a particular biomass source due to composition variations.