18 months ago Ever Cat was the subject of a post that examined the technology and the people behind what seemed to be a breakthrough method to get to diesel from bio oils and fats. The breakthrough seemed to deliver the possibility of making biodiesel in mere seconds from start to finish, reducing costs by half the price of other biodiesel, producing no waste, using no chemical reactants, and using any animal fat or vegetable oil as a feedstock.
The analysts who have been invited to look over the process are impressed by how well the design works in utilizing the chemical reaction innovation. The graphic shows the stream of alcohol and oil entering the reactor and exiting as biodiesel fuel and recyclable alcohol. The next stages of separation and cleaning yield a ready to use fuel product.
The process relies on feedstocks that can be as varied as alcohols from single carbon methanol, ethanol and up to three carbon propanol. The oil side can source from the full range of plant and animal based oils as well as waste products. While not exceedingly cheap, these products are in a growth phase and can be improved to the higher energy density of middle distillates like diesel, jet and home heating oils. Alcohols while good and achievable chemicals from current plant growth need the boost to higher energy density both to enter the fuel supply system and to keep value in consumer’s investments in fuel using machines.
At last year’s posting Ever Cat fuels had only succeeded at making a small-scale pilot operation of 50,000 gallons per year. But, as late September 2009, the process has been completely commercialized. Ever Cat opened the doors to its new biodiesel facility in rural Isanti, Minnesota on September 28, 2009. The plant employs 20 people now, and is capable of delivering 3 million gallons of biodiesel a year (MGY). Ever Cat has set its eyes firmly on increasing that capacity to 33 MGY within the next 3 years.
The plant should be at full capacity this a week, producing 10,000 gallons per day – almost two semi truckloads. (Add another, a licensed one, in Forest City Iowa announced Wednesday.)
Basically, the process works like this:
· Raw fats and oils of any type are combined with an alcohol
· This mixture is fed through a sulfated zirconia column heated to 300 degrees Celsius
· Their Easy Fatty Acid Removal (EFAR) system recycles any unreacted raw material back through the reactor
· Excess alcohol is recycled back through the reactor
· Pure biodiesel comes out the end.
The advantages of the system are:
· No waste produced; No washing or neutralizing of the biodiesel is necessary
· 100% conversion of raw materials to biodiesel
· Any raw fat or oil can be used to make biodiesel
· Very efficient due to heat recapture from the column
· Sulfated zirconia catalyst never needs replacing
· Very small footprint of the reactor system, uses an extremely small amount of area for the amount of biodiesel produced
· Essentially no emissions and no waste stream from the process; Easy permitting from the government.
The past year has seen the bio diesel business in the economic doldrums. Called the McGyan process, the technology might be the breakthrough that can keep a lot of vegetable and animal oils and fats out of landfills, treatment systems and take a lot of excess glycerin out of the market.
From all the plant oils already in abundance such as soy, cottonseed, other conventional sources as well as the dedicated crops like jatropha, McGyan has a lock for the short term on the hottest technology until algae hits commercial scale. Or maybe the McGyan process has a role in algae as well.
But the big news is the satisfaction of a small town American technological success that can migrate out worldwide and makes a huge difference. There isn’t enough bio oil out there to displace all of the middle distillates, but now serious inroads are possible as well as new income for subsistence farming outside the U.S.
All this started as a required undergraduate chemistry project for student Brian Krohn at Augsburg College in Minneapolis, MN. Krohn and his major professor, Arlin Gyberg, were looking at ways to catalyze the raw materials into biodiesel using a process called esterification. The basic idea was to run the raw fats and oils over a sulfated zirconia catalyst to change them into biodiesel. This idea isn’t new, but the duo thought they could improve on it. In the end, the pair enlisted the help of another scientist Ben Yan and Augsburg alum Clayton McNeff.
Congratulations to the Ever Cat team. Maybe they’ll come up with a lighter output in the gasoline range someday.