Biodiesel Supply and Biodiesel Production
Let's examine the process of biodiesel manufacturing. While there are several ways of making biodiesel fuel from animal fats or from vegetable oils, what follows is the most common procedure, the procedure that is the fastest and most cost-effect, and also the one that yields the most product.
To make biodiesel fuel you begin with vegetable oil or animal fats, both of which, of course, are natural and organic materials. Then you put them through a chemical process called transesterfication. During transesterfication, glycerin is separated from the fat or oil. Glycerin is a liquid that tastes sweet and that can be used in the production of soaps and moisturizers. And after this glycerin has been taken out, you are left with byproducts called methyl esters, which are organic chemical compounds. Methyl ester is also the chemical name for biodiesel fuel.
Let's look at the process in more detail. The first thing that's done at a biodiesel plant is vegetable oil is put through a filter to remove any impurities: sand, dirt, sediment, and the like. Water is also taken out of the oil at this point as well.
Now the oil or fat is mixed in with an alcohol, usually an alcohol that is treated with a chemical that will catalyze, or speed up, the chemical reaction that is to take place. As the alcohol and the fat or oil are combined, the fat or the oil will dissolve completely to form a new compound.
This compound is then stored in an airtight container that's set at 140 degrees Fahrenheit or warmer 158 being the boiling point of alcohol. Eventually, after a period of time anywhere from 2 hour to several long, a chemical reaction will take place in which the methyl esters will be separated from the glycerin. Sometimes the compound is spun in a centrifuge so that the glycerin will separate faster, but this is not necessary because the glycerin is so dense that it will naturally settle at the bottom of the mixture in time.
Just before or just after the glycerin has separated from the esters, the alcohol within the mixture is distilled or evaporated. Often this alcohol is then used again in biodiesel production. The glycerin is cleaned occasionally it is treated with acid and then sold off to be used in the production of soap. As for the methyl esters, or biodiesel as they are known from this point on, it is washed in warm water, and then dried, and then stored until it is ready to be shipped.
Bear in mind that the above description has been simplified somewhat, but it provides a good overview of the transformation of animal fats and vegetable oils into biodiesel fuel. Now, most means of producing biodiesel fuels involve using a biodiesel processor, a piece of equipment which we'll look at next.