Biodiesel Glycerol Conversion to Anti-Freeze

–  In addition to topping off your gas tank with biodiesel, a new advance could let you fill your vehicle’s cooling system with a biomass-derived antifreeze. A new process developed at the University of Missouri-Columbia (MU) creates a valuable secondary product from the biodiesel manufacturing process that makes the production cycle both profitable and affordable.

Galen Suppes, chief science officer of the MU-based Renewable Alternatives, developed a process for converting glycerin, a byproduct of the biodiesel production process, into propylene glycol, which can be used as nontoxic antifreeze for automobiles. Suppes said the new propylene glycol product will meet every performance standard, is made from domestic soybeans and is nontoxic.

Suppes said this technology can reduce the cost of biodiesel production by as much as $0.40 per gallon of biodiesel. The market for propylene glycol already is established, with a billion pounds produced a year.

“The price of propylene glycol is quite high while glycerin’s price is low, so based on the low cost of feed stock and high value of propylene glycol, the process appears to be most profitable,” Suppes said. “The consumers want antifreeze that is both renewable and made from biomass rather than petroleum from which propylene glycol currently is produced.”

The creation of a valuable secondary product could help mainstream the use of biodiesel. In 2004, biodiesel producers sold 30 million gallons of fuel, up from 500,000 gallons in 1999. It’s still, however, a relatively niche fuel.

“At best, right now biodiesel production is only part of the solution,” Suppes said. “Current biodiesel production in the United States is about 0.03 billion gallons per year as compared to distillate fuel oil consumption of 57 billion gallons per year.”

Renewable Alternatives is currently licensing this technology to three biodiesel plants. The National Science Foundation and Missouri Soybean Farmers are helping to fund the research.

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