Last Friday I visited a biodiesel refinery in Belvidere, Illinois. Operated by BioVantage Fuels LLC, the plant takes waste vegetable oil from restaurants in the greater Chicago area and converts it to B95 and B100 fuel. The fuel must meet stringent quality standards set by the American Society of Testing and Measurement (ASTM D-6751), which ensures compatibility with diesel engines. The growing supply of biodiesel across America offers great potential not only for fuel. As the cost of extracting petroleum rises, the use of renewable raw materials for making chemicals becomes more economically attractive.
The Belvidere plant is capable of producing millions of gallons of biodiesel every year. It take roughly eighteen hours for a drop of waste vegetable oil to be converted to biodiesel. The chemistry should be familiar to anyone who has made biodiesel. A two-stage process, with acid-catalyzed esterification followed by base-catalyzed transesterication, maximizes the amount of biodiesel which can be extracted from waste vegetable oil. While the process is the same, the reactors and supporting equipment are much larger in scale!