UBC Undergraduate Research

Investigation of solid acid catalyst functionalization for the production of biodiesel Nash, Elliot James


The adoption of biodiesel as an alternative fuel is gaining momentum despite its large production cost and the competition with agricultural crops for land. To resolve both of these drawbacks, waste vegetable oils can be used as a feedstock for biodiesel production. However, waste vegetable oils generate by-products that create the need for more complicated synthesis procedures to deal with. Solid acid catalysts have demonstrated the ability to simplify this procedure into one reaction and separation procedure. However, the most efficient way to develop a solid acid catalyst has yet to be determined. The primary objectives of this thesis are to: continue the development of a solid acid catalyst for use in the UBC biodiesel project: investigate the effect of different functionalization methods on the development of the acid density of the catalyst; and analyze the effect of functionalization steps on the esterification activity of the catalyst. The acid catalysts were produced by increasing the surface area and porosity of biochar through chemical activation with potassium hydroxide. Then the catalyst was functionalized by contacting the biochar with fuming sulfuric acid, either by direct contact (BC-A-LS), vapour phase contact (BC-A-VS), or ozonating the biochar (BC-A-O). These procedures increase the acid density of the biochar to between 0.22-0.7 mmoll/g. The functionalized biochars were tested for their ability to esterify free fatty acids (oleic acid) with methanol. Esterification of the fatty acids was conducted over 10 hours with a 10:1 methanol to oleic acid ratio. BC-A (activated but non-functionalized biochar), BC-A-O, BC-A-LS, and BC-A-VS had oleic acid conversion of 7.3%, 24.3%, 28.3% and 42.9%, respectively. A positive relationship between acid density and catalytic activity was demonstrated by the collected data, but further conclusions from the data have been limited by the errors associated with the conversions. Disclaimer: “UBC SEEDS provides students with the opportunity to share the findings of their studies, as well as their opinions, conclusions and recommendations with the UBC community. The reader should bear in mind that this is a student project/report and is not an official document of UBC. Furthermore readers should bear in mind that these reports may not reflect the current status of activities at UBC. We urge you to contact the research persons mentioned in a report or the SEEDS Coordinator about the current status of the subject matter of a project/report.”

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