Biodiesel Production & Biodiesel Conversion

Hielscher's Ultrasonic 32MMGY Biodiesel ReactorWhen you make biodiesel, slow reaction kinetics and poor mass transfer are lowering your biodiesel plant capacity as well as your biodiesel yield and quality. Hielscher ultrasonic reactors improve the transesterification kinetics significantly. Therefore lower excess methanol and less catalyst are required for biodiesel processing.

Biodiesel is commonly produced in batch reactors using heat and mechanical mixing as energy input. Ultrasonic cavitational mixing is an effective alternative to achieve a better mixing in commercial biodiesel processing. Ultrasonic cavitation provides the necessary activation energy for the industrial biodiesel transesterification.


In this video tutorial we introduce you into the science of how ultrasonic biodiesel reactors significantly improve biodiesel production. Hielscher ultrasonic biodiesel reactors are established as a powerful tool to enhance the biodiesel production process, and in this tutorial, we delve into the working principle behind it and show various ultrasonic setups for any production scale. Enhance your biodiesel production in efficiency and cost-effectiveness and produce higher yields of high-quality biodiesel within a rapid conversion. At the same time, ultrasonic biodiesel reactors allow for the use of poor oils such as waste vegetable oils or spent cooking fats and help to save methanol and catalyst, contributing to an environmental-friendly and sustainable biodiesel manufacturing.

Biodiesel Production Using Hielscher Sonoreactors for More Yield, Higher Quality & Capacity

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3x UIP1000hdT ultrasonicators for highly efficient biodiesel transesterification using waste vegetable oils, tallow or other oils.

Ultrasonic mixing improves biodiesel conversion rate, increases yield and saves excess methanol and catalyst.

Ultrasonically Improved Transesterification of Biodiesel

Biodiesel production typically involves a chemical reaction called transesterification, in which a triglyceride (such as vegetable oil, animal fat, spent cooking oils) reacts with an alcohol (such as methanol) in the presence of a catalyst to produce biodiesel (fatty acid methyl esters) and glycerol. Ultrasonic reactors can be used to enhance the transesterification process in several ways, leading to several benefits:

  • Improved mixing: Ultrasonic waves can create cavitation bubbles that collapse violently, causing intense mixing and agitation of the reaction mixture. This leads to better contact between the reactants and the catalyst, resulting in faster and more complete transesterification.
  • Accelerated reaction kinetics: The high-energy conditions generated by ultrasonic waves can activate the reaction, increasing the reaction rate and reducing the reaction time needed to reach a given level of conversion. This can result in higher yields and lower costs.
  • Reduced catalyst usage: Ultrasonic reactors can improve the efficiency of catalyst use by providing more active sites for the reaction. This means that less catalyst is required to achieve the same level of conversion, reducing costs and environmental impact.
  • Improved product quality: Ultrasonic reactors can produce biodiesel with lower free fatty acid content, higher purity, and better cold flow properties. This is due to the improved mixing and faster reaction kinetics, which minimize the formation of unwanted byproducts and impurities.

These advantages of ultrasonic biodiesel processing make the use of an ultrasound reactor setup highly economical since the use of ultrasonic reactors significantly improves the efficiency, speed, and quality of biodiesel transesterification. This means in summary that ultrasonication turns the transesterification into a more economically and environmentally sustainable process.

Problems of Conventional Biodiesel Mixing: The conventional esterification reaction in batch processing tends to be slow, and phase separation of the glycerin is time-consuming, often taking 5 hours or more.
Ultrasonic reactors help you to accelerate your biodiesel process and simultaneously increase your biodiesel yield and quality at lower processing costs!

Hielscher ultrasonic reactor for biodiesel transesterification with superior process efficiency

Industrial-grade ultrasonicator UIP2000hdT with flow cell FC2T500k for inline biodiesel esterfication and transesterification.


The Advantages of Ultrasonic Biodiesel Transesterification

  • Higher biodiesel yields due to improved mixing
  • Increased biodiesel quality
  • Use even poorest oil as feedstock
  • Continuous inline processing
  • Less methanol
  • Less catalyst
  • Time-saving due to high-speed conversion
  • Energy-saving
  • Simple and safe operation
  • Robustness and low maintenance
  • High performance: 24/7 operation under full load
Tulsa Biofuels_Manufacturer

“We’ve been very pleased with Hielscher’s equipment and service and we have every intention of including the Hielscher ultrasonication technology in all of our future endeavors.”
Todd Stephens, Tulsa Biofuels

Ultrasonics for Biodiesel Production

Biodiesel is often produced in batch reactors. Ultrasonic biodiesel conversion allows for the continuous inline processing. Ultrasonication can achieve a biodiesel yield in excess of 99%. Ultrasonic reactors reduce the processing time from the conventional 1 to 4 hour batch processing to less than 30 seconds. More important, ultrasonication reduces the separation time from 5 to 10 hours (using conventional agitation) to less than 60 minutes. The ultrasonication does also help to decrease to amount of catalyst required by up to 50% due to the increased chemical activity in the presence of cavitation. When using ultrasonication the amount of excess methanol required is reduced, too. Another benefit is the resulting increase in the purity of the glycerin.
Ultrasonic Biodiesel Production Step-by-Step:

  1. the vegetable oil or animal fat is being mixed with the methanol (which makes methyl esters) or ethanol (for ethyl esters) and sodium or potassium methoxide or hydroxide
  2. the mix is heated, e.g. to temperatures between 45 and 65degC
  3. the heated mix is being sonicated inline for 5 to 15 seconds
  4. glycerin drops out or is separated using centrifuges
  5. the converted biodiesel is washed with water

Most commonly, the sonication is performed at an elevated pressure (1 to 3bar, gauge pressure) using a feed pump and an adjustable back-pressure valve next to the flow cell.

Industrial biodiesel conversion does not need much ultrasonic energy. The actual energy requirement can be determined at benchtop scale using e.g., a 1kW ultrasonic processor such as the UIP1000hdT. All results from such bench-top trials can be scaled up linear and without any problems. If required, ATEX-certified ultrasonic devices are available, such as the UIP1000-Exd.

Hielscher supplies industrial ultrasonic biodiesel processing equipment, worldwide. With ultrasonic processors of up to 16kW power per single device, there is no limit in biodiesel plant size or processing capacity.

Costs of Ultrasonic Biodiesel Manufacturing

(Click for larger view!) The overall energy efficiency is important when you make biodiesel. The efficiency describes how much of the power is transmitted from the plug into the oil/methanol mix. Our ultrasonic reactors have an overall efficiency of more than 80%.Ultrasonication is an effective means to increase the reaction speed and conversion rate in the commercial biodiesel production. Ultrasonic processing costs result mainly from the investment for ultrasonic equipment, utility costs and maintenance. The outstanding energy efficiency of Hielscher ultrasonicators helps to reduce the utility costs and by this to make this process even greener. The resulting costs for the ultrasonication vary between 0.1ct and 1.0ct per liter (0.4ct to 1.9ct/gallon) when used on commercial scale.
Read more about the process efficiency and economical benefits of ultrasonic biodiesel production!

Reduce the energy requirements of your biodiesel process with ultrasonic mixing!

Ultrasonic mixing reduces the specific energy consumption inbiodiesel manufacturing outperformin hydrodynamic magnetic mixing and high-shear mixers by far.


Small Scale Ultrasonic Biodiesel Setup

Ultrasonication can be used for the conversion of oil into biodiesel at any scale. The picture below shows a small scale setup for the processing of 60-70L (16 to 19 gallons). This is the typical setup for initial studies and process demonstration.

Process chart showing the biodiesel process in batch mode. Ultrasound can improve esterification and transesterification significantly.

Ultrasonic esterification and transesterification can be run as batch or continuous inline process. This chart shows the ultrasonic batch process for biodiesel conversion.

Ultrasonic cavitation reactors from Hielscher Ultrasonics are widely installed in biodiesel manufacturing facilities for improved process efficiency, higher yields and reduction of production costs.

3x 1kW ultrasonicators of the model 1000hdT with ultrasonic flow-through reactor with for highly efficient biodiesel conversion.

For a simple, yet highly efficacious ultrasonic biodiesel setup you need the following equipment:

  • one ultrasonicator (e.g., UIP500hdT or UIP1000hdT) with booster, sonotrode and flow cell
  • power meter for metering power and energy
  • 80L processing tank (plastic, e.g. HDPE)
  • heating element (1 to 2kW)
  • 10L catalyst premix tank (plastic, e.g. HDPE)
  • catalyst premixer (stirrer)
  • pump (centrifuge, mono or gear) for approx. 10 to 20L/min at 1 to 3 barg
  • back-pressure valve for adjusting pressure in the flow cell
  • pressure gauge for measuring feed pressure
Click here to download your PDF version pertinent toUltrasonic Mixing for Biodiesel Production

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Ultrasonic Reactors for Superior Biodiesel Processing

Hielscher Ultrasonics offers high-performance ultrasonic processors and reactors, which will improve your biodiesel production by higher biodiesel yields, improved biodiesel quality, reduced processing time and lower production costs.

Small and Medium Scale Ultrasonic Reactors for Biodiesel Transesterification

Ultrasonic transducers UIP500hd (500W), UIP1000hd (1000W), and UIP15000 (1500W) with flow cells for continuous biodiesel processingFor small and medium size biodiesel production of up to 9ton/hr (2900 gal/hr), Hielscher offers you the UIP500hdT (500 watts), UIP1000hdT (1000 watts), UIP1500hdT (1500 watts), and UIP2000hdT (2000 watts) as ultrasonic high-shear mixers with flow-through reactors for reliable and efficient inline biodiesel processing. These four ultrasonic reactors are very compact, easy to integrate or retro-fit. They are built for heavy duty operation in harsh environments. Below you will find recommended reactor setups for a range of production rates.

1x UIP500hdT (500 watts)
0.25 to 0.5
80 to 160
1x UIP1000hdT (1000 watts)
0.5 to 1.0
160 to 320
1x UIP1500hdT (1500 watts)
0.75 to 1.5
240 to 480
1x UIP2000hdT (2000 watts)
1.0 to 2.0
320 to 640
2x UIP2000hdT (2000 watts)
2.0 to 4.0
640 to 1280
4xUIP1500hdT (1500 watts)
3.0 to 6.0
960 to 1920
6x UIP1500hdT (1500 watts)
4.5 to 9.0
1440 to 2880
6x UIP2000hdT (2000 watts)
6.0 to 12.0
1920 to 3840

Very Large-Throughput Industrial Biodiesel Reactors

UIP4000hdT flow cell for inline sonication on industrial scaleFor industrial processing biodiesel production plants Hielscher offers the UIP4000hdT (4kW), UIP6000hdT (6kW), 10000 (10kW), and UIP16000hdT (16kW) ultrasonic homogenizers! These ultrasonic processors are designed for the continuous processing of high flow rates. The UIP4000hdT, UIP6000hdT and UIP10000 can be integrated into standard sea freight containers. Alternatively, all four processor models are available in stainless steel cabinets. An upright installation requires minimal space. Below you find recommended setups for typical industrial processing rates.

1x UIP6000hdT (6000 watts)
3.0 to 6.0
960 to 1920
3x UIP4000hdT (4000 watts)
6.0 to 12.0
1920 to 3840
5x UIP4000hdT (4000 watts)
10.0 to 20.0
3200 to 6400
3x UIP6000hdT (6000 watts)
9.0 to 18.0
2880 to 5880
3x UIP10000 (10,000 watts)
15.0 to 30.0
4800 to 9600
3x UIP16000hdT (16,000 watts)
24.0 to 48.0
7680 to 15360
5x UIP16000hdT
40.0 to 80.0
12800 to 25600

Contact Us! / Ask Us!

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Industrial ultrasonic processor with 16,000 watts power for high biodiesel processing capacities.

The ultrasonicator UIP16000hdT is capable to process 32MMGY biodiesel.

Frost & Sullivan Technology Innovation of the Year

The Frost & Sullivan European Technology Innovation of the Year Award in Biodiesel processing technologies goes to Hielscher Ultrasonics in recognition of the company’s development of novel ultrasonics technology for bio-diesel production.

Hielscher Ultrasonics received the prestigious Frost and Sullivan Technology Innovation of the Year Award in recognition of the company’s development of novel ultrasonics technology for bio-diesel production.
Click here to read more about the Frost and Sullivan Award for Hielscher Ultrasonics biodiesel reactors!

TransesterificationThe Chemical Conversion of Biodiesel

Manufacturing biodiesel from vegetable oils (e.g. soy, canola, jatropha, sunflower seed), algae, animal fats as well as waste cooking oils, involves the base-catalyzed transesterification of fatty acids with methanol or ethanol to give the corresponding methyl esters or ethyl esters. Glycerin is an inevitable byproduct of this reaction.

Vegetable oils as animal fats are triglycerides composed of three chains of fatty acids bound by a glycerin molecule. Triglycerides are esters. Esters are acids, like fatty acids, combined with an alcohol. Glycerine (= glycerol) is a heavy alcohol. In the conversion process triglyceride esters are turned into alkyl esters (= biodiesel) using a catalyst (lye) and an alcohol reagent, e.g. methanol, which yields methyl esters biodiesel. The methanol replaces the glycerin. This chemical conversion process is called transesterification.

After transesterification, the glycerine, which is the heavier phase, will sink to the bottom. Biodiesel, which is the lighter phase, floats on top and can be separated, e.g. by decanters or centrifuges.

Biodiesel Preparation

Potassium Hydroxide (0.2 to 0.4kg, catalyst) is being dissolved into approx. 8.5L Methanol in the catalyst pre-mix tank. This requires stirring of the catalyst premix. The processing tank is being filled with 66L vegetable oil. The oil is being heated by the heating element to 45 to 65degC.

Biodiesel Conversion

When the catalyst is fully dissolved into the Methanol, the catalyst premix is mixed with the heated oil. The pump feeds the mixture to the flow cell. By means of the back-pressure valve, the pressure is adjusted to 1 to 3barg (15 to 45psig). Recirculation through the ultrasonic biodiesel reactor should performed for approx. 20 minutes. During this time, the oil is being converted into biodiesel. After this, the pump and the ultrasound are switched off. The glycerin (heavier phase) will separate from the biodiesel (lighter phase). The separation takes approx. 30 to 60 minutes. When the separation is finished, the glycerin can be drained.

Biodiesel Washing

As the converted biodiesel contains impurities, washing is required. For the washing, water is mixed into the biodiesel. Ultrasonication can benefit the mixing of the biodiesel with the water. This increases the active surface area as a result of the droplet size reduction. Please consider, that very intense sonication may reduce the water droplets to a size, that an almost stable emulsion is being formed that will require special means (e.g. centrifuge) to be separated.

The video shows the highly efficient emulsification of oil using a probe-type ultrasonicator. The ultrasonic processor used is a Hielscher UP400St ultrasonicator, which is ideal to prepare medium size batches of high-quality emulsions.

Video: UP400St - 400 Watts Ultrasonic Homogenizer

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Biodiesel Manufacturing Plant

The flow-chart below shows a typical setup for the in-line sonication of oil, methanol and catalyst for the conversion into biodiesel.

Process chart showing the biodiesel process in continuous flow mode. Ultrasound can improve esterification and transesterification significantly.

Ultrasonic esterification and transesterification can be run as batch or continuous inline process. The chart shows the ultrasonic inline process for biodiesel (FAME) transesterfication.


Continuous Biodiesel Processing and Separation

In a setup for the continuous biodiesel processing and continuous separation, the heated oil and the catalyst premix are mixed together continuously using adjustable pumps. An inline static mixer improves the homogeneity of the feed to the ultrasonic reactor. The oil/catalyst mixture passes the flow cell, where it is being exposed to ultrasonic cavitation for approx. 5 to 30 seconds. A back-pressure valve is used to control the pressure in the flow cell. The sonicated mix enters the reactor column on the top. The volume of the reactor column is designed to give approx. 1 hour retention time in the column. During that time, the transesterification reaction is completed. The reacted glycerin/biodiesel mix is pumped to the centrifuge where it is separated into the biodiesel and glycerin fractions. Post-processing involves methanol recovery, washing and drying and can be done continuously, too.

This setup eliminates biodiesel reactor batches, conventional agitators and large separator tanks.

Biodiesel Transesterification Reaction Speed

The diagrams below show typical results of the transesterification of rapeseed oil (industrial grade) with sodium methoxide (left) and potassium hydroxide (right). For both tests, a control sample (blue line) was exposed to intense mechanical mixing. The red line represents the sonicated sample of the identical formulation with respect to volume ratio, catalyst concentration and temperature. The horizontal axis shows the time after mixing or sonication, respectively. The vertical axis shows the volume of glycerin that settled at the bottom. This is a simple means of measuring the reaction speed. In both diagrams, the sonicated sample (red) reacts much faster than the control sample (blue).

Ultrasonic mixing excels conventional mixing by higher biodiesel yields and faster conversion. This advantage of sonication applies independently of the catalyst used.

Comparison of ultrasonic (red graph) vs conventional mixing (blue graph) for biodiesel productionusing with sodium methoxide (left) and potassium hydroxide (right) as catalysts.


Links for Biodiesel Supplies

Click here for links to suppliers of pumps and tanks for the biodiesel industry.

Chemical and Safety Information

Please read the information below carefully, to prevent complications and adverse health effects.

Biodiesel Chemicals

Methanol is toxic. It can cause nerve deterioration as a result of prolonged usage. It can be adsorbed by the skin, too. If splashed into eyes it may cause blindness and Methanol can be fatal when swallowed. For this reason, take the necessary precautions when handling Methanol. It is recommended to use a good respirator, an apron and rubber gloves.

Potassium hydroxide (KOH) is toxic and causes skin burn upon contact. Good ventilation is required.

Make sure the workspace is generously and thoroughly ventilated to allow fumes to escape. Vapor cartridge respirators are not effective against methanol fumes. A supplied-air system (SCBASelf-Contained Breathing Apparatus) gives better protection against methanol vapors.

Biodiesel and Rubber Parts

Running on 100% biodiesel for longer time may cause complications to wetted rubber parts (pump, hoses, O-rings) of the engine. Replacement by steel parts or heavy duty rubber can eliminate this problem. Alternatively you can mix approx. 25% conventional (fossil) diesel into your biodiesel to prevent complications.

Literature / References

High performance ultrasonics! Hielscher's product range covers the full spectrum from the compact lab ultrasonicator over bench-top units to full-industrial ultrasonic systems.

Hielscher Ultrasonics manufactures high-performance ultrasonic homogenizers from lab to industrial size.

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