Fuelling the future: The production of esters of higher fatty acids from plant materials is of great interest for the manufacture of biodiesel. Heterogeneous catalysts can provide new routes for the environmentally benign production of biodiesel. Particulate heterogeneous catalysts can be readily separated from products following reaction allowing the catalyst to be reused, generating less waste, and consuming less energy.
Diesel engines are simple and powerful, and exhibit many advantages in energy efficiency and cost. Therefore, the production of higher fatty acid esters from plant materials has become of interest in recent years for the manufacture of biodiesel, a clean-burning alternative fuel. The industrial production of biodiesel mostly proceeds in the presence of “soluble” catalysts such as alkali hydroxides and liquid acids. A considerable amount of energy is required for the purification of products and catalyst separation, and furthermore these catalysts are not reusable. This process results in substantial energy wastage and the production of large amounts of chemical waste. Particulate heterogeneous catalysts can be readily separated from products following reaction, allowing the catalyst to be reused and consuming less energy. This Minireview describes the environmentally benign production of biodiesel using heterogeneous catalysts such as solid bases, acid catalysts, and immobilized enzymes.