Production of Renewable Diesel Fuel from Biologically Based Feedstocks
Vegetable oils have been investigated as a way to provide a renewable source for diesel fuel. A successful approach to using vegetable oils in diesel engines has been transesterification of the oils with simple alcohols to produce mono-alkyl esters. These mono-alkyl esters have come to be known as biodiesel. A recent development in the area of alternative diesel fuels is a fuel produced from vegetable oils and animal fats using specially modified hydrogenation processes in a conventional petroleum processing facility (Rantanen et al. 2005). This fuel is usually called renewable diesel or green diesel. It has the low-sulfur and low-aromatic character of biodiesel but contains no oxygen and has a heating value similar to that of petroleum diesel fuel. Recent U.S. interest in this approach has expanded due to governmental announcements that the fuel qualifies for federal excise tax credits (IRS 2007). This project will determine whether the production technology for these compounds, which has been focused on large petroleum refining facilities, can be implemented on a smaller scale. If this can be done, existing biodiesel production facilities could retrofit their plants with this technology. We will also be developing a pilot facility at the UI that can be used to further develop the technology and evaluate competing processes. We will also be educating two graduate students and several undergraduates to enter the field of renewable fuels.