Biodiesel production

A professor of chemistry has developed a nanosphere-based catalyst that reacts vegetable oils and animal fats with methanol to produce biodiesel.

Victor Lin, an Iowa State University professor of chemistry, has developed a nanosphere-based catalyst that reacts vegetable oils and animal fats with methanol to produce biodiesel.

Lin is now working with Mohr Davidow Ventures, an early stage venture capital firm based in Menlo Park, California, the Iowa State University Research Foundation and three members of his research team, to establish a startup called Catilin to produce, develop and market the biodiesel technology he invented.

Lin said the company’s goal over the next 18 months is to produce enough of the nanosphere catalysts to increase biodiesel production from a laboratory scale to a pilot-plant scale of 300 gallons per day.

The technology replaces sodium methoxide – a toxic, corrosive and flammable catalyst – in biodiesel production. And that eliminates several production steps including acid neutralisation, water washes and separations. All those steps dissolve the toxic catalyst so it can’t be used again.

Catilin’s nanospheres are solid and that makes them easier to handle. They can also be recovered from the chemical mixture and recycled. And they can be used in existing biodiesel plants without major equipment changes.

Lin said the catalyst has been under development for the past four years. The company will market the third generation of the catalyst – a version that’s much cheaper to produce than earlier, more uniform versions.

The catalyst was developed with the support of grants from the US Department of Agriculture, the US Department of Energy’s Office of Basic Energy Sciences and the state’s Grow Iowa Values Fund. Patents for the technology are pending. Catilin has signed licensing agreements with Iowa State’s research foundation that allows the company to commercialise Lin’s invention.

As the company grows and demonstrates its technology, Lin said the company will have to decide whether it will become a catalyst company, will work with partners to develop biodiesel plants or will produce its own biodiesel.

Victor Lin, an Iowa State University professor of chemistry, is using nanotechnology and chemistry to improve biodiesel production