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New Biodiesel Process Promises Cleaner, Cheaper and Faster Production

Capital Technologies, Inc. (CTI) is commercializing a new biodiesel production process developed with Carnegie Mellon University’s Center for Advanced Fuel Technology that promises faster and cleaner production of biodiesel at lowered costs.

The core of the process is a proprietary solid catalyst that speeds up the overall reaction by a factor of 10, according to CTI, thereby significantly reducing production costs. Furthermore, because the catalyst is not mixed into the feedstock, as in conventional methods of production using a liquid catalyst, the CTI process eliminates the need for a wash cycle at the end to remove catalytic materials from the resulting biodiesel and glycerin.

The use of the solid catalyst also allows the factory to be packaged compactly as modules in the form factor of a standard shipping container: 8' x 8.5' x 40'. Off the factory skid are three 25,000-gallon double-walled feed tanks, three 25,000-gallon single-walled product tanks and a 38-foot methanol dryer.

Information about the catalyst and the reactor designs are confidential, according to the company.

The CTI-CMU process can use de-gummed virgin plant oils, animal fat or waste cooking oil as feedstocks.

Production is continuous, with a constant outflow rate of 10.1 gallons per minute from a basic production module. This results in an annual capacity per factory module of some 5 million gallons when processing a mixed feedstock of virgin oils and animal fat or waste oils.

If only trigylcerides—i.e., virgin plant oils (less than 0.5% free fatty acids)—are used as feedstock, yield can be increased to 9 million gallons per year by replacing the reactor for free fatty acids with a second triglyceride reactor that runs in parallel.

Up to 48 modules could be joined together on one site, creating a very large biodiesel facility.

A basic module costs $4.9 million, along with a mandatory annual catalyst contract of $95,000. The catalyst is to be replaced once a month, with used catalyst shipped back to CTI.

CTI estimates production costs (excluding capital costs and feedstock costs) as follows:

Sample CTI-CMU Processing Costs (excluding feedstock and capital cost)
ModulesAnnual CapacityFeedstockProcessing costs
3 27 million gallons Virgin oils $0.18/gallon
1 9 million gallons Virgin oils $0.20/gallon
6 30 million gallons Mixed oils and fats $0.23/gallon
1 5 million gallons Mixed oils and fats $0.29/gallon

The actual cost of production will vary, of course, based on the cost of feedstock.

In 2002, NREL estimated the average cost of the production of biodiesel at $0.31/gallon, excluding feedstock and energy costs.

Since the proprietary catalyst is the key to the process, CTI is setting up a third party with licensing rights to provide the catalyst as a contingency to protect customers against CTI shutting its doors.

The first US plant using the new biodiesel process is being constructed on Neville Island (west of Pittsburgh, PA) in a former rendering plant. Total project cost for the 10-million-gallon plant (annual capacity) is an estimated at $10 million, with most of the funding provided by venture capital and low-interest state loans. The rendering plant’s former owner—Valley Proteins—also is putting in $2 million in cash and the facility.

CTI currently has a distribution agreement with a European oil company which has agreed to purchase seven to eight million gallons +/- 10% of biodiesel a month—i.e., approximately 100 million gallons a year. CTI is therefore looking for a sufficient number of joint venture agreements in the short term whose combined production totals 100 million gallons per year, with expansion beyond that in succeeding years.



"A basic module costs $4.9 million, along with a mandatory annual catalyst contract of $95,000. The catalyst is to be replaced once a month, with used catalyst shipped back to CTI."

To this intellectual-property layman, this smells fishy. Isn't the standard operating procedure for inventors of innovative new processes to get a patent? Why are they instead trying to protect it as a trade secret with - I assume - NDAs instead of patents?


I agree. They should license the technology out. That would help ensure that it is adopted as THE way to mass produce bio-diesel. They get less money per installation that way, but FAR more installations.


The CMU developers have filed applications for patents. CTI holds exclusive worldwide marketing rights to the technology.

The relationship is basically this:

CTI was an existing company with technologies that it thought fit well with some of the things CMU was doing.

CTI now funds CMU’s Center for Advanced Fuel Technology to create additional technology to complement CTI’s existing technology. CTI has the exclusive worldwide rights to market the combined technologies of CTI and CMU.

CTI has offices at the CMU campus. Seven of CTI’s 35 staffers are scientists hired from Carnegie Mellon University who are dedicated full time to perform R&D for CTI.

Cyril Maga

Good morning,

I am a Food Processing Enginneer and I actually work in Oils and Fat industry...But I`d to work in biodiesel production.

I will be very grateful to receive any tips in that aim...

I wish you a good day



Trade secrets are often used instead of patents because patents have limited life spans, but Trade secrets operate in perpetuity. Coke, for example, never patented its formula, but registered it as a trade secret. That's why it has been able to keep its formula private for nearly 100 years. Drug companies lobby regularly to increase the patent protection of a drug because, given its lifespan, limits the amount of recurring revenue it can make on any drug before the patent runs out and open the market for generics. So it's a matter of choice for the company how best to protect the investment on intellectual property.


Don't worry. University research is partly owned by the university. The Technology Transfer Office, along with sponsors of the research have recieved provisional patents, and have filed with the patent office for the real deal. The trade secrect route was only to protect them while they find companies to run factories. CTI aculally does not produce product- They build the facilities and that's there angle, that's why they're interested in protecting the sale of the catalyst.

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