Scientists from the Technische Universitat Munchen headed by Dr. Johannes Lercher introduce a new catalytic process which paves for the effective conversion of microalgae oils to renewable diesel. Plant oils are viable raw materials for making biofuels. Microalgae in particular is an excellent feedstock resource as it has about 60 wt percent of high tryglycerides , grows up to two hundred times faster than other oil crops like rapeseed or soybean, and does not pose a food versus oil production conflict.
The researchers noted that at the moment there are basically three ways to refine oil from microalgae:
- make use of hydrotreating catalysts like CoMo and sulfided NiMo but these may contaminate the product;
- transesterification of alcohol and triglycerides into glycerol and FAAEs just like how it is done for the 1st gen biodiesel but this results to problem with flow property in colder weather giving it a limited application;
- make use of base metal and noble catalysts for decarbonylation and decarboxylation of carboxylic acid into alkanes
The experts reports that crude oil from microalgae can be converted to a high grade biofuel fit for transportation application by using Ni as scalable catalyst supported with zeolite Hbeta.
The microalgae used for the study consist of comprised unsaturated fatty acids, saturated fatty acids, and other fatty acids. The microalgae hydrotreated the material using the NI/HBeta catalyst and they were able to obtain good amount of octadecane, propane, and methane.
The new approach in this study gives way to possibilities to produce high grade transportation fuels using microalgae as raw material and doing it in large scale production.