Piedmont founder receives Researcher of the Year award

By Erin Voegele | November 09, 2011

The founder of Pittsboro, N.C.-based Piedmont Biofuels has been recognized with the National Biodiesel Board’s 2011 “Biodiesel Researcher of the Year” award. Rachel Burton received the award at a ceremony held in Kansas City, Mo.

The award, which focuses on the technical advancement of biodiesel, has traditionally gone to scientists at federal laboratories or universities. Burton has received the award in honor of her work in enzymatic catalysis. According to information released on the award, the process developed by Burton stands to open up the biodiesel industry to a large variety of new feedstocks that have not previously been considered useable for fuel production. In addition, Burton has also worked to advance the NBB’s diesel technicians training program with its recent Automotive Service Excellence accreditation.

Burton began manufacturing biodiesel in 2002. At Piedmont Biofuels she took the lead of fuel quality and analytics, and guided Piedmont into its BQ-9000 quality accreditation. She also founded the research endeavors at Piedmont, which led to development of the enzymatic catalysis process.

According to Piedmont Biofuels, the co-op commissioned the first enzymatic biodiesel plant of its kind in the U.S. in July 2011. The scale-neutral biodiesel technology was developed in cooperation with enzyme company Novozymes. Piedmont Biofuels’ Fatty Acid Esterification (FAeSTER) process allows biodiesel producers to utilize feedstocks with up to 100 percent free fatty acid content. The company states that immobilized enzymes catalyze the esterification reaction quickly, and without forming hazardous byproducts. The enzymes can be reused for months and the necessary equipment can be installed at existing plants with little or no further modification.

Burton has also delivered technical papers and lectures on sustainable biodiesel production, enzyme catalysis and other scientific breakthroughs. Topics of those studies include sunflower oil, trap grease, and a market analysis of glycerol carbonate. Burton is also scheduled to present at the U.S. DOE’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s 24th Industry Growth Forum on Wed. Nov. 9.  


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