Renewable fuel from lipid-based feedstock has emerged as a good alternative to fossil fuels and has piqued the interest of many researchers, encouraging a team of scientists to work towards its synthesis.
With the rise of global warming and climate change, our energy requirements need to be fulfilled by renewable energy sources such as wind, water, sunlight, and geothermal heat. In this regard, renewable fuels have garnered a lot of attention due to their low maintenance costs and reliability, among other advantages. One way to produce these fuels is from lipid-based feedstock such as microbial lipids, animal fats, and plant oil.
Now, a team of scientists associated with the Worldwide Universities Network’s (WUN) Global Research Group (SDGs in Asia) - a research group focused on the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) released by the United Nations in 2015 - have investigated the production of hydro-processed renewable diesel (HRD) with a non-sulfide catalyst. The team is headed by Prof. Mohammed Farid from the University of Auckland and also includes Associate Prof. Wei-Chang Wang from National Cheng Kung University (NCKU) in Taiwan, Prof. Rex Demafelid from the University of the Philippines, Los Banos, and Prof. Haslenda Hashim from the Universiti Teknologi, Malaysia.
In their report published on the WUN website, the team explains how their end goal is to develop an integrated platform for producing renewable fuels using lipid-based feedstock from two paths - biodiesel production via glycerolysis or transesterification using green solvents such as deep eutectic solvents (which is being researched by Prof. Farid’s group), and renewable diesel production through hydrocracking (which is being studied by Prof. Wang’s group). They call this a “dual-fuel approach”. Meanwhile, Prof. Demafelis’ group is assessing the life cycle and feasibility of the team’s production approach, while Prof. Hashim’s group ties it all together by developing an integrated biorefinery platform.
The team focused on producing hydro-processed renewable diesel (HRD) from palm oil - an easily available lipid source - using non-sulfide catalysts. As part of their efforts to optimise this process, they analysed the various aspects of HRD production. One of these included the study of various non-sulfide catalysts in the production of hydro-processed renewable diesel (HRD). They have compared the performance of catalysts with different supports and metals, and in the presence of various parameters (including temperature, pressure, and hydrogen-to-oil ratio). They have also characterised these catalysts using techniques like x-ray diffraction and Fourier-transform infrared spectroscopy. 8Ni-8Mo/γAl2O3 was found to be the most suitable catalyst for HRD production, with a high conversion and selectivity of 99.5 percent and 98.9 percent, respectively. The team also delineated the optimal conditions for the production of HRD - a temperature of 360o C, a pressure of 60 bar, and a hydrogen-to-oil ratio of 1000.
Finally, they tested the HRD fuel's properties against the American Society for Testing and Materials’ standards. When compared to the properties of conventional diesel, the synthesised HRD showed to be a good alternative for use in applications concerning transportation and storage.
“A small-scale laboratory unit has already been developed to produce this renewable diesel using a homemade catalyst from bio-based feedstock” said Professor Wang. “This takes us one step closer to achieving our dream of a holistic platform for the production of renewable fuels.”
A comprehensive platform such as the one proposed could revolutionize the production of renewable energy and bring us closer to a more sustainable future.
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