Researchers at Northwestern University in Chicago have figured out how to produce biodiesel without making the by-product glycerol. This article from Chemistry World says the scientists, led by Tobin Marks, developed the method.
The process uses a tandem catalytic system, consisting of metal triflate and supported palladium catalysts, to selectively break down triglyceride esters into carboxylic acids, which can be converted to biodiesel, as well as propane and valuable C3-oxygenates. ‘We are coupling two different reactions, using two different catalysts in the same pot. One catalyst opens or breaks the carbon–oxygen bond and the other catalyst hydrogenates the product, which is unsaturated. That helps drive the reaction thermodynamically,’ explains Marks.
While recent years have seen a considerable body of research into ways of converting waste glycerol into more valuable chemicals, this new approach avoids making it entirely. As Tracy Lohr who worked on the project explains, ‘The advantage of our system is that we don’t form any glycerol, instead we’re forming more useful products. Going from the triglycerides to those more useful precursors eliminates steps, it’s more cost-effective and you get your product easier and faster.’
The article adds that biodiesel production has contributed to the glut of glycerol worldwide.