Biodiesel is a biodegradable and renewable fuel, emerging as a viable alternative to petroleum diesel. Conventional biodiesel processes still suffer from problems associated with the use of homogeneous catalysts and the limitations imposed by the chemical reaction equilibrium, thus leading to severe economic and environmental penalties. This work provides a detailed review—illustrated with relevant examples—of novel reactive separation technologies used in biodiesel production: reactive distillation/absorption/extraction, and membrane reactors.
Reactive separation offers new and exciting opportunities for manufacturing the fatty acid alkyl esters involved in the industrial production of biodiesel and specialty chemicals. The integration of reaction and separation into one operating unit overcomes equilibrium limitations and provides major benefits such as low capital investment and operating costs. These reactive separation processes can be further enhanced by heat-integration and powered by heterogeneous catalysts, to eliminate all conventional catalyst related operations, using efficiently the raw materials and the reaction volume, while offering higher conversion and selectivity, as well as significant energy savings compared with conventional biodiesel processes. Remarkable, in spite of the high degree of integration, such integrated reactive-separation processes are still very well controllable as illustrated by the included examples. Copyright © 2012 Society of Chemical Industry