Fat Cats: The production of biodiesel from vegetable oils and animal fats through transesterification and cracking is an emerging sector of the modern chemical industry, which, as many others, relies on the use of catalysis. Recent advances in the application of various homogeneous, heterogeneous, and enzymatic catalytic systems to biofuel production are presented in this Review.
The predicted shortage of fossil fuels and related environmental concerns have recently attracted significant attention to scientific and technological issues concerning the conversion of biomass into fuels. First-generation biodiesel, obtained from vegetable oils and animal fats by transesterification, relies on commercial technology and rich scientific background, though continuous progress in this field offers opportunities for improvement. This Review focuses on new catalytic systems for the transesterification of oils to the corresponding ethyl/methyl esters of fatty acids. It also addresses some innovative/emerging technologies for the production of biodiesel, such as the catalytic hydrocracking of vegetable oils to hydrocarbons. The special role of the catalyst as a key to efficient technology is outlined, together with the other important factors that affect the yield and quality of the product, including feedstock-related properties and various system conditions.