Optimizing Research

A unique acetal could open up new options for biodiesel
By Bryan Sims | August 16, 2011

Acetals can play a critical role in the performance and quality of biodiesel. They function as additives and can enhance the cetane for higher ignitability. They also improve oxidation stability and decrease nitrogen oxide emissions. Ion Agirre, a doctor of chemical engineering at the University of the Basque Country, has discovered a novel route for producing a different type of acetal, 1,1 diethoxy butane, from renewable sources such as plant-derived sugars.

According to a thesis Agirre defended, titled, “Innovative reaction systems for acetal (1.1 diethoxy butane) production from renewable sources,” he successfully produced 1,1 diethoxy butane using reactive distillations and dehydration membranes between ethanol and butanol. The main advantage of this type of acetal, according to Agirre, is that it is derived from biobased sources where the ethanol can be obtained from fermentation of sugar-rich plants and the butanol from the dehydrogenation or the partial oxidation of its corresponding alcohol. In his research, he notes that 1,1 diethoxy butane complies with the majority of specifications required for adhering to diesel, unlike other commonly used acetals, such as 1,1 diethoxy ethane.

Agirre concluded that the most efficient and economical option for obtaining 1,1 diethoxy butane could be the combination of dehydration membranes and conventional distillation. Agirre’s work on acetal process optimization can also be found in the Journal of Membrane Science.

—Bryan Sims

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