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Continuous Catalyst-Free Esterification of Oleic Acid in Compressed Ethanol

DOI: 10.1155/2014/803783

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The esterification of oleic acid in a continuous catalyst-free process using compressed ethanol was investigated in the present study. Experiments were performed in a tubular reactor and variables investigated were temperature, pressure, and oleic acid to ethanol molar ratio for different residence time. Results demonstrated that temperature, in the range of 473?K to 573?K, and pressure had a positive effect on fatty acid ethyl esters (FAEE) production. In the experimental range investigated, high conversions can be obtained at low ethanol concentrations in the reaction medium and it was observed that oleic acid to ethanol molar ratios greater than 1?:?6 show no significant increase in conversion. Nonnegligible reaction conversions (>90%) were achieved at 573?K, 20?MPa, oleic acid to ethanol molar ratio of 1?:?6, and 20 minutes of residence time. 1. Introduction Fatty acid, methyl or ethyl, esters can be usually obtained from free fatty acid (FFA) esterification reaction, through vegetable oils hydrolysis followed by the fatty acid esterification or from direct vegetable oils transesterification [1]. The importance of examining the esterification reaction in a more detailed manner is justified by the huge amount and variety of vegetable oils worldwide available for biodiesel production which may have a high percentage of FFA making the conventional alkali-catalyzed transesterification impracticable, since for this process the percentage of FFA needs to be less than 0.5% [2]. Recent studies propose to obtain esters in two reaction steps of substrates with high acidity, consisting of two approaches: (a) esterification of FFA and subsequent transesterification of triglycerides [3–5] or (b) hydrolysis of triglycerides, followed by esterification of fatty acids obtained [6–8]. In these approaches are commonly used chemical catalysts (homogeneous or heterogeneous) or enzymatic catalysts. More recently, the noncatalytic process where is proposed the hydrolysis occurs primarily in subcritical water and subsequent esterification using a solvent in sub- or supercritical [9, 10]. According to the current literature, catalyst-free reactions at high temperature and pressure conditions provide improved phase solubility and decreased mass-transfer limitations; the reaction rate increases significantly in the supercritical state and, thus, the reaction is complete in shorter periods and simpler separation and purification steps [11, 12]. Some studies available in the literature reported the biodiesel production from free fatty acids (FFA) by noncatalytic method at sub-


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