Although ethanol has been commercialized for use in vehicles, its feasibility as an alternative fuel source to conventional gasoline is growing more unlikely because of the effects it has on the demand and price of corn. An alternative to corn based biofuel is Jatropha derived biofuel, based on the Jatropha Curcas plant. Jatropha Curcas is an oil-seed bearing shrub that possesses two primary needs for an alternative fuel source: it is a non food plant and it can be grown in harsh, arid conditions where other seed-bearing plants cannot.
The primary objective of this group is to design and optimize a full scale process that extracts and converts the oil found in Jatropha Curcas seeds into a usable fuel substitute. Laboratory experiments will be conducted to test and optimize the chemical processes beforehand.
The process will be designed to produce 2,000,000 gallons of biodiesel per year, and will be simulated and optimized using UniSim simulation software. The production of the biodiesel from the Jatropha Curcas seeds has been broken down into three main steps:
1. Extraction of seed oil
2. Treatment of seed oil
3. Conversion of the seed oil to biodiesel
High yield chemical procedures will be used to extract the oil from the Jatropha seeds and then to convert that seed oil to biodiesel. Solvent extraction and the transesterification processes are the two chemical processes selected from a list of alternatives. Hexane was selected as the solvent used in Step 1. A base-catalyzed transesterification using sodium hydroxide and methanol was used in Step 2 to treat the Jatropha seed oil. Sulfuric acid was used as a catalyst along with methanol in Step 3, which used an acid-catalyzed transesterification process to convert the seed oil to the final product biodiesel. A video of laboratory procedures can be viewed here...
A Process Flow Diagram (PFD) of the simulated process can be viewed here...