Enhancing Properties of Biodiesel via Heterogeneous Catalysis

  • Adeel Anwar

Student thesis: Phd


Biodiesel is a re-emerging biofuel as an alternative to the traditional petroleum derived diesel. There are however, several factors that currently hinder the widespread uptake. Majority of the biodiesel are currently produced from edible oils thereby sparking the food versus fuel debate, the cost of feedstock is significantly high, there are problems experienced in the traditional production process and the resulting fuel is of inadequate quality. This work focused on addressing the issue of poor cold flow properties to improve the overall quality of biodiesel.The skeletal isomerisation of linear fatty acid methyl esters (FAMEs) into branched chain isomers, using solid acid catalysts, appears to be the most comprehensive solution in enhancing the cold flow properties of biodiesel. However, obtaining high branched chain yields, mitigation of undesired side reactions, achieving shorter reaction times, using fewer processing steps and lower operating conditions have still not been achieved to a large extent. Moreover, no studies were found to date investigating isomerisation of FAMEs as a continuous process.A trickle bed reactor (TBR) system has been identified to be an effective continuous reactor. Its key features of being a three phase system and allowing a high degree of contact between the reactant and the catalyst offering a high conversion per unit volume provides an encouraging opportunity to lower reaction times, reaction steps and conditions whilst increasing branched chain yields.This thesis explores the use of the TBR system, for the first time, to enhance the cold flow properties of biodiesel through molecular modification using zeolite beta catalyst with Si/Al ratios of 180 and 12.5. A range of reactions have been investigated including isomerisation, dewaxing (hydroisomerisation and hydrocracking) and decarboxylation on biodiesels derived from camelina, palm and coconut oils. Significant progress has been made in this research area with a 7 °C drop in MP being achieved upon the dewaxing of the coconut biodiesel at 250 °C, 1.01 bar pressure, 0.2 ml/min LF and 37.5 ml/min GF. To achieve greater drops in melting points it has been suggested to investigate mesoporous catalysts as they will ensure greater facilitated molecular access to the active sites, resulting in a higher conversion by preventing pore blockages. All in all, a series of key findings and serendipitous discoveries have brought to surface an array of new challenges as well as paving the way for a host of exciting opportunities for future research. The ability to continuously produce high quality renewable fuel offers a fascinating prospective for various industrial associates such as Argent Energy, Olleco, Neste Oil and ConocoPhillips.
Date of Award31 Dec 2016
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorArthur Garforth (Supervisor) & Colin Webb (Supervisor)


  • Cold Flow Properties
  • Trickle Bed Reactor
  • Zeolites
  • Biodiesel

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