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Shock waves step up biodiesel-fuel production

By Chemical Engineering |

Biodiesel fuel is typically produced by the transesterification of vegetable oil or animal fats in a batch operation that takes about 1-1/2 h. Hydro Dynamics, Inc. (HDI; Rome, Ga.; edlinks.chemengonline.com/6895-534) claims to have cut the residence time to 2–3 s in a continuous process that uses the company’s patented ShockWave Power Reactor (SPR). Until now, the SPR has been used mainly in mixing operations, says Daniel Armstead, HDI’s technical director. The first commercial application for continuous biodiesel-fuel production is in a grassroots plant recently started up by Memphis Biofuels LLC (Memphis, Tenn.). Armstead says the plant is producing 100 gal/min from a 3-gal SPR and has an annual capacity of 50-million gal. Memphis Biofuels feeds a mixture of vegetable oil, methanol and a base catalyst to the SPR, which has a cylinder that contains multiple cavities and rotates at about 3,600 rpm. The specific geometry of the cavities, combined with the rotational speed, causes tiny bubbles to form and collapse, generating shockwaves that heat and mix the liquids. Armstead explains that the shockwaves increase the surface area of the liquids, thereby achieving a higher mass-transfer rate.
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