The funding sought for this project will not be sufficient to accomplish the overall objective of building a biodiesel demonstration plant. However, we intend to use the funding to design and fabricate a central part of the plant, an alcohol recovery system. This will include flash stripping processes for the biodiesel and glycerin streams that will remove the alcohol and other volatiles and then a distillation column to separate any water from the alcohol streams so that they can be reused in the reaction.
This system has been one of the most problematic for small biodiesel producers and this is why we have made it our first priority. Many small biodiesel producers have not had the technical expertise to design a satisfactory alcohol recovery system and are simply wasting 50 percent of the alcohol added to the reaction by sending it to the local sewage treatment plant. In some cases, to reduce the amount of waste, they are reducing the amount of alcohol added to the reaction, which tends to lower the quality of their final product. We intend to design and fabricate an alcohol recovery system and then to make the design of the system publicly available so that it can be adopted by small producers. Even some medium and large producers could use the system with a few modifications.
The system will be designed so that it can produce alcohol that is of acceptable quality for reuse in the plant’s production process. The system will operate with either methanol or ethanol. Because of the azeotrope that is formed between ethanol and water, it will be necessary to add a small molecular sieve to the system to remove the last 5 percent of the water.
We have been in contact with the Kim-Hotstart Company in Spokane about collaborating on this project. They are a producer of fuel and engine heating systems and are interested in seeing their equipment used for biodiesel production. They have indicated they will provide their products for experimental systems at little or no cost.