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)|
|Modules||Annual Capacity||Feedstock||Processing 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.