A Novel Catalyst Turns Leftover Cooking Oil into Biodiesel

A consortium of researchers from several universities synthesized a new catalyst that can turn leftover cooking oil into biodiesel at a 93.2% efficiency. The discovery could help reduce waste and provide a new and efficient energy source.

Demand for energy – especially fossil fuels – has increased dramatically over the last few decades. However, fossil fuels are extremely polluting, contributing both to air pollution and to the advent of climate change. It is clear that there is urgent need for alternative fuel sources, especially renewable ones.

Biodiesel has been studied extensively for use in place of oil extracted from the ground.It is the most commercially produced bio-fuel up to date. While the fuel properties of biodiesel are comparable to those of fossil diesel, it can be produced with low levels of carbon emission. Furthermore, biodiesel can immediately be used in conventional diesel engines, with no modifications of the engine.

It has been hypothesized that left-over cooking oil can be an abundant source for biodiesel production. For that to happen, however, the oil must underdo a chemical modification called transesterification, which requires the use of an expensive catalyst. 

The efficiency of the transesterification process is affected by several parameters. These include temperature, the time provided for the reaction to happen, and the nature of the catalysts used. If one wants to achieve optimal conversion ratio, therefore, at least one of those factors needs to be optimized.

Researchers from several universities collaborated recently to synthesize a novel catalyst for the conversion the transesterification of cooking oil into biodiesel. The catalyst was tested on leftover cooking oil, and the resultant biodiesel was characterized so as to make sure that it can be used in similar ways as ordinary diesel.

Schematic representation of the experimental apparatus. Source

The researchers showed that the novel catalyst they synthesized (called Zn-MgO-ZrO2) is highly active when turning cooking oil into biodiesel. In fact, the catalyst was so effective that 92.3% of the cooking oil was transmuted into biodiesel. What’s more, the catalyst itself isn’t lost in the reaction, and can be reusable, following a simple chemical modification. Lastly, the resultant biodiesel was tested according to the most strict standards in the energy industry, and was found to be just as effective as the biodiesel used in diesel engines.

A scanning electron microscope image of the synthesized catalyst. Source

The new catalyst can help in recycling waste – leftover cooking oil – and turning it from a pollutant into a useful energy source. This discovery can therefore be of great help in eliminating some of the need for fossil fuels, thus mitigating and slowing down climate change.

The researchers involved in this research were: Ala’a H. Al-Muhtaseb and Mohammed Al-Riyami, Htet Htet Kyaw, Myo Tay Zar Myint and Lamya Al-Haj from Sultan Qaboos University, Ahmed I. Osman from Queen’s University Belfast, Farrukh Jamil from COMSATS University, Asma A. Alothman from King Saud University, Ahmad Abu-Jrai from Al-Hussein Bin Talal University, and Vinoth Kumar Ponnusamy from Kaohsiung Medical University.

Original content by Nawartna

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