Is the Next Best Process Already Here?

Jatrodiesel was wrong about their Super process—and they’re happy about it
By Luke Geiver | June 14, 2011

Raj Mosali and his team at Jatrodiesel thought they had the latest, best biodiesel process available to date, but they were wrong—and that was a good thing. After tweaking their supercritical-esque process that also employs a heterogeneous solid metal catalyst, they improved the economic superiority of the process again. “This beats the traditional process by a long shot,” Mosali says. And, according to him, this newly trademarked “Super” process is nothing like traditional biodiesel manufacturing.

In most biodiesel production methods today, processing requires at least four to five steps using a homogeneous catalyst. This process, however, “eliminates all of these multiple stages,” Mosali says. The Jatrodiesel process mixes the methanol with the oil, which can be at any free fatty acid (FFA) content—15, 20 or even 100 percent—he says. The mixture is fed through a super column along with the solid metal catalyst and the resulting product is an ASTM spec biodiesel.

The reason this process is better than a traditional approach, Mosali says, directly relates to the reuse (or lack thereof) of the catalysts. He says in a typical process, the liquid catalysts used cost up to 15 cents a gallon. Through pilot-scale work, Mosali and his team thought they had that number down to roughly 1.5 cents per gallon using the Super process. But, after a few tweaks to the entire process, they found that using their system wouldn’t require the reuse of the catalysts, and that dropped the price per gallon down to under a half a cent per gallon. “So, now there is a huge difference in cost savings,” he says.

Although part of the savings stems from some tweaks to the super column by changing the way the product trickles through and is packed in, the main reason for the greater improvement to the process is a simple preprocess they perform on the feedstock. Because the feedstock they were testing, which ranged from corn oil to yellow grease to pork fat, all had different impurity levels and water content values, the team decided to add a preprocess step to clean up the feedstock, and that, Mosali says, “makes a huge difference in the longevity of the catalyst.”

The system operates at supercritical temperatures and pressures, and there are already at least three interested parties who have begun soliciting renderers or ethanol facilities for feedstock supplies. The process is scalable to any size, but for now Mosali and his team are focusing on the 3 MMgy range. Although the pilot testing is already complete, Mosali says the real proof will come after the Super process is put to commercial use.

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