Commercialization of Solid Acid and Base Catalysts Derived from Biochar Optimized to Produce Biodiesel from Low Cost Oils

Award Information
Environmental Protection Agency
Award Year:
Phase II
Agency Tracking Number:
Solicitation Year:
Solicitation Topic Code:
Topic G
Solicitation Number:
Small Business Information
Down to Earth Energy (formerly Mountain Creek Enterprises)
941 Monroe Jersey Rd., Monroe, GA, 30655
Hubzone Owned:
Minority Owned:
Woman Owned:
Principal Investigator:
Lawrence Keith
(704) 483-1895
Business Contact:
Lawrence Keith
(704) 483-1895
Research Institution:

Down to Earth Energy will scale up and commercialize reusable and recoverable solid, porous acid and base catalysts for biodiesel production using biochar generated from agricultural and forestry residues (i.e., a sustainable biomass). The Phase I feasibility study using an acid catalyst made from biochar (peanut hulls, pine pellets, and pine chips) showed high efficiency methylation of fats and oils containing more than 11 percent free fatty acids (average of 98.4% ± 0.27% conversion at 65°C in 2 hours with acidic pine char). Scale-up of this new catalyst will have the greatest impact on commercialization because it will enable biodiesel to be made from inexpensive feedstocks like yellow grease, rendered fats, and other low quality fats and oils. Very recently, continuing its research beyond Phase I, Down to Earth Energy developed a novel base functionalized biochar from peanut hulls that is efficient for catalytic transesterification (100% conversion in 3 hours at 65°C). The use of a base catalyst will greatly reduce amounts of waste pollutants that are generated compared to current methodology that uses sodium or potassium hydroxide and generates more pollutants than biodiesel product.

First year activities will focus on: (1) optimizing production of the acid and base catalysts, (2) optimizing recovery and reuse of the acid and base catalysts, and (3) the design and development of pilot-scale, continuous-flow catalyst test beds. Scale-up research and commercialization activities will occur concurrently with the optimization of production and reuse of the two chars, and will involve reactor design specifications for batched slurry and continuous fixed-bed configurations; the effect of free fatty acid concentration, temperature, flow rate, and particle size on kinetics and reaction rates; and determination of optimal char volumes at practical industrial flow rates. Char production and engineering partnerships also will be formalized and production of the acid catalyst using a gaseous functionalization reagent will be evaluated in place of the current liquid phase production methods.

* information listed above is at the time of submission.

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