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Biodiesel Production Process 

What is Esterification?

Learn about the biodiesel production process and esterification. Find Grundfos pumps that are designed for the biofuel industry.


In the biodiesel production process, one of the steps is called transesterification. This involves separating glycerin from the animal fat or vegetable oil that is used as the feedstock. This process creates two substances — methyl esters (biodiesel fuel) and glycerin (a useful byproduct that can be used in soaps and other items). Read this article for an overview of the esterification process and learn about the unique requirements for biodiesel equipment and especially pumping systems for biodiesel production.


Biodiesel Production in the U.S. 

Although the United States is known as the leader in bioethanol production and use, U.S. biodiesel production in January 2019 was 144 million gallons, with production in the Midwest accounting for 65 percent of that total. From 100 biodiesel plants, there is the capacity of 2.5 billion gallons every year. Soybean oil is the most common feedstock used in biodiesel production. 

What is Esterification and Transesterification? 

Esterification and transesterification are chemical reactions between vegetable oils or animal fats and alcohols, which are usually ethanol or methanol. Transesterification of fats and methanol creates fatty acid methyl esters (FAME). Molecules in biodiesel are mostly of this type and are typically derived from vegetable oils. The transesterification reaction can use either an acid or a base as a catalyst, although for bioethanol production, a base catalyst such as sodium methoxide is more commonly used, due to its lower cost and shorter reaction time. Through the transesterification process, fatty acid alkyl esters and an alcohol are formed. FAME is used in biodiesel instead of free fatty acids to avoid corrosion to the metals found in production facilities and engines. The alcohol is first mixed with the catalyst, and is then combined with the fatty acid, causing the transesterification reaction. Water must be removed during the process, as it causes triglycerides to hydrolyze, which will produce soap rather than biodiesel.

What are the Requirements for Pumps Used in Transesterification? 

Because of the aggressive substances used in the esterification process, and in biodiesel production in general, pumping systems as well as other equipment, must be up to the task. Grundfos pumps, highly respected in the biofuel industry, are designed for just this purpose, to safely move harsh chemicals and high viscosity materials. 

Grundfos ATEX-approved pumps are ideal for biodiesel transesterification processes. Having the right pump is critical when handling complex media, and it’s equally important to achieve full integration as well as control of the pump and other factory systems. 

For applications that involve high viscosity oil, aggressive chemicals and alcohol, choose their NBG/NKG end-suction pumps, which are ISO 2858 compliant. Their CR multistage pump is also recommended for similar applications, and it’s available in stainless steel. 

If you’re looking for a simple, modular design and flow intelligence, the SMART Digital (DDA, DDC and DDE) diaphragm dosing pumps offer these features, and they keep lifecycle costs low. 

When your industrial process involves adding various chemicals, see the Grundfos DMX series motor-driven diaphragm dosing pumps, DMH oscillating positive displacement pumps, DDI precision dosing pumps and DME large-volume dosing pumps. 

At Burt Process Equipment, you’ll find a wide selection of Grundfos pumps for your biofuel processing needs.