Squeezing More Oil from Crops for Biodiesel

John Davis

The name of the game in the biodiesel biz is getting the most out of your feedstocks. Some researchers at the University of California-Davis have found a way to squeeze another 24 percent out of oilseeds such as safflower.

This press release from the school says the new process converts both plant oils and carbohydrates into biodiesel in a single process, improving the performance of the biodiesel, especially in cold weather:

Conventional biodiesel production extracts plant oils and then converts them into fatty acid esters that can be used to power engines, said Mark Mascal, professor of chemistry at UC Davis and co-author of the paper with postdoctoral researcher Edward Nikitin. That leaves behind the carbohydrate portion of the plant — the sugars, starches, and cellulose that make up stems, leaves, seed husks and other structures.

The new process converts those carbohydrates into chemicals called levulinic acid esters — at the same time and in the same vessel that the oils are converted to fatty acid esters — resulting in a fuel cocktail that performs better at low temperatures than conventional biodiesel.

The article goes on to say the process might cost a bit more, but improved fuel yields and performance would make up the difference.

Biodiesel, Research