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The Biodiesel Education Program at the University of Idaho is sponsored by the USDA


Faster Biodiesel Processing with Ultrasound-Assisted Reactors

In biodiesel production, vigorous mixing is required to create suf cient contact between the vegetable oil/animal fat and alcohol, especially at the beginning of the reaction.

Ultrasound is a useful tool to mix liquids that tend to separate. Ultrasonic waves cause intense mixing at micro-levels and improve mass transfer greatly, so that the reaction can proceed at a much faster rate. Although not currently in wide use, ultrasound is a promising technology for biodiesel production.

Ultrasound processing results in similar yields of biodiesel with a much shortened reaction time compared to the conventional stirred-tank procedure. Ultrasonic reactors

can process triglycerides into biodiesel within minutes. In addition, current users of the technology claim that much less catalyst and methanol are required.

Ultrasonic processing can be used successfully with a wide variety of feedstocks, including high free fatty acid feedstocks. In addition, ethanol can be used instead of methanol. Catalysts can include potassium and sodium hydroxide and sulfuric acid. Researchers have also reported using enzyme catalysts with ultrasonic processing, and showed good results without much loss of enzymatic activity during the time of the study.

How Ultrasound Works

“Ultrasound” refers to sound waves that are above the frequency for human hearing, which is approximately 20 kilohertz (kHz), or 20,000 cycles per second.

These kinds of rapidly vibrating sound waves transfer energy into the uid and create violent vibrations, which form “cavitation” bubbles as the low pressure part of the sound passes through the liquid. After the wave passes, the bubbles collapse, causing a sudden contraction of the uid. This collapse produces very intense mixing in the area of the bubbles.

Such a high-energy action in the liquid can considerably increase the reactivity of the reactant mixture and shorten

the reaction time without involving elevated temperatures. In fact, this reaction can be achieved at or slightly above ambient temperature.

Ultrasound is characterized by its frequency (kilohertz) as well as by its intensity (watts/cm2). A higher frequency causes the sonotrode to vibrate faster, resulting in smaller cavitation bubbles and a larger surface area for mixing the alcohol and triglycerides.

Experiments have been done using frequencies ranging from 24 kHz to 1300 kHz, and biodiesel was successfully produced within minutes in this range.

If the intensity is increased, the amplitude of the vibration increases. In other words, the probe travels farther back

and forth with each cycle. This may increase the mixing effectiveness, and it may also help the ultrasound waves travel farther into the liquid.

More research is needed to determine optimum levels of ultrasonication power input for biodiesel production. Using a higher frequency and intensity does not necessarily increase the speed or effectiveness of the biodiesel reaction. Most experiments have used 20-24 kHz for biodiesel processing.

Because the ultrasonic waves are strongest within approximately a half inch of the probe surface, some ultrasonic biodiesel reactors use a tube design, in which the liquids ow slowly and continuously through a narrow tube tted with a probe.

Biodiesel TechNotes are published by the Department of Biological and Agricultural Engineering at the University of Idaho 208-885-7626

May 2012

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 Supercritical Fluid Extraction TN15_Ultrasonic.pdf Page 001
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