Evaluating the feasibility of converting crude tall oil and tall oil fatty acids into biofuel
Ngcobo, Nkosinathi Cedrick
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The main objective of this study was to evaluate the feasibility of conversion of crude tall oil and tall oil fatty acids into biodiesel. During the Kraft pulping process, Crude Tall Oil originates as tall oil soap, which is separated from recovered black liquor. The soap is then converted to Crude Tall Oil by acidulation with sulphuric acid. The Crude Tall Oil is then fractionated by distillation to produce tall oil fatty acids (TOFA), rosin and pitch. There were a number of conversional methods that were considered but proved to be inappropriate. A base-catalyzed method was inappropriate with due to the high free fatty acid content on the feedstock, and the acid-base catalyzed method was inappropriate due to the long reaction times and large excess of methanol required. An enzyme based conversion method was also found to be inappropriate because of the high price attached to the purchasing of the enzymes and the stability of the enzyme. A procedure of choice was the supercritical methanol treatment, due to the fact that it requires no separate catalyst. A procedure was developed for both the feedstocks (i.e. crude tall oil and tall oil fatty acids) using the supercritical methanol treatment. In supercritical methanol treatment, feedstock and methanol were charged to a reactor and were subjected to temperatures and pressures beyond the critical point of methanol (Tc = 240 °C, Pc = 35 bar). The maximum biodiesel yield obtained from Crude tall oil was 66% and was 81% for the tall oil fatty acids that was produced in a single stage process. The temperature and methanol to feedstock ratio effects was also found to yield a maximum biodiesel yield at 325°C and 40:1 respectively. A 20 minutes reaction time was found to be appropriate for the maximum yield of biodiesel. The final biodiesel produced was also evaluated against a commercial biodiesel product and its parameters measured. The biodiesel resulting from the tall oil fatty acid yielded parameters that were acceptable according to ASTM D6751 specifications for biodiesel. The biodiesel produced from the crude tall oil did not meet the ASTM D6751 specification, and this was mostly attributed to the presence of unsaponifiables which hindered the conversion of oil into biodiesel.