Document Type



Doctor of Philosophy


Chemical Engineering

First Adviser

Hsu, James T.

Other advisers/committee members

Hsu, James T.; Caram, Hugo S.; Snyder, Mark A.; Roberts, James E.


The demand for renewable forms of energy has increased tremendously over the past two decades. Of all the different forms of renewable energy, biodiesel, a liquid fuel, has emerged as one of the more viable possibilities. This is in large part due to the fact that biodiesel can readily be used in modern day diesel engines with nearly no engine modifications. It is commonly blended with conventional petroleum-derived diesel but it can also be used neat. As a result of the continued growth of the industry, there has been a correspondingly large increase in the scientific and technical research conducted on the subject. Much of the research has been conducted on the feasibility of using different types of feedstocks, which generally vary with respect to geographic locale, as well as different types of catalysts. Much of the work of the present study was involved with the investigation of the binary liquid-liquid nature of the system and its effects on the reaction kinetics. Initially, the development of an analytical method for the analysis of the compounds present in transesterification reaction mixtures using high performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) was developed. The use of UV(205 nm) as well as refractive index detection (RID) were shown capable to detect the various different types of components associated with transesterification reactions. Reversed-phase chromatography with isocratic elution was primarily used. Using a unique experimental apparatus enabling the simultaneous analysis of both liquid phases throughout the reaction, an experimental method was developed for measuring the reaction rate under both mass transfer control and reaction control. The transesterification reaction rate under each controlling mechanism was subsequently evaluated and compared. It was determined that the reaction rate is directly proportional to the concentration of triglycerides in the methanol phase. Furthermore, the reaction rate accelerates rapidly as the system transitions from two phases to a single phase, or pseudo-single phase. The transition to a single phase or pseudo-single phase is a function of the methanol content. Regardless, the maximum observed reaction rate occurs at the point of the phase transition, when the concentration of triglycerides in the methanol phase is largest. The phase transition occurs due to the accumulation of the primary product, biodiesel methyl esters. Through various experiments, it was determined that the rate of the triglyceride mass transfer into the methanol phase, as well as the solubility of triglycerides in methanol, increases with increasing methyl ester concentration. Thus, there exists some critical methyl ester concentration which favors the formation of a single or pseudo-single phase system. The effect of the by-product glycerol on the reaction kinetics was also investigated. It was determined that at low methanol to triglyceride molar ratios, glycerol acts to inhibit the reaction rate and limit the overall triglyceride conversion. This occurs because glycerol accumulates in the methanol phase, i.e. the primary reaction volume. When glycerol is at relatively high concentrations within the methanol phase, triglycerides become excluded from the reaction volume. This greatly reduces the reaction rate and limits the overall conversion. As the concentration of methanol is increased, glycerol becomes diluted and the inhibitory effects become dampened. Assuming pseudo-homogeneous phase behavior, a simple kinetic model incorporating the inhibitory effects of glycerol was proposed based on batch reactor data. The kinetic model was primarily used to theoretically compare the performance of different types of continuous flow reactors for continuous biodiesel production. It was determined that the inhibitory effects of glycerol result in the requirement of very large reactor volumes when using continuous stirred tank reactors (CSTR). The reactor volume can be greatly reduced using tubular style plug flow reactors (PFR). Despite this fact, the use of CSTRs is more common than the use of PFRs. This is mostly due to the fact that the two initial reactant phases are relatively immiscible and significant agitation is generally supplied to initiate the reaction. Based on the theoretical results, however, the use of a packed-bed tubular flow reactor was investigated experimentally. A series of two tubular flow reactors was built in the laboratory. The first reactor was of the shell and tube variety and also functioned as a preheater. The second reactor was larger and contained a packed-bed. Two different flow configurations were invested, upflow-upflow and downflow-downflow. It was determined that the downflow-downflow configuration provided significantly better triglyceride conversions that the upflow-upflow configuration.