Environmental Fuel Research, LLC, was recently formed to pursue commercialization of waste grease to biofuel production utilizing the bubble column reactor and other process technologies that have been developed and improved by the research group at Drexel under the direction of Professor Cairncross. The PI on this project, Megan Hums is a PhD student at Drexel University who is developing life cycle analysis models of waste grease to biofuels processes, collaborating with Drexel students who are conducting bubble column reactor experiments, and collaborating with the USDA on biodiesel purification and quality testing.
The partners in Environmental Fuel Research, LLC are
• Marylin Huff: PhD Chemical Engineer and laboratory director at the University of Pennsylvania with process, catalyst, and reactor expertise. She manages business operations.
• Richard Cairncross: PhD Chemical Engineer and associate professor at Drexel University who led research on bubble column reactor.
• Donald Wilson: a technician who has built and operated biodiesel reactors and started a successful soap-making company. He has practical experience and knowledge that is critical for successful implementation of the research.
Environmental Fuel Research, LLC, is a woman-owned business and is located within a HUB Zone in Philadelphia. Environmental Fuel Research, LLC, is committed to diversity and to developing sustainable fuel solutions.
PROJECT DESCRIPTION AND OBJECTIVES
EFR-LLC has received funding from two sources to pursue research on commercializing biodiesel production from trap grease waste: (1) a Phase I EPA SBIR grant (EP-D-14-019) and (2) Water Environment Research Foundation grant subcontract (WERFU3R13).
Grease Trap Waste (GTW) is a high-lipid waste stream from the wastewater management system that is underutilized despite its potential for conversion into valuable fuels. Prior research at Drexel has demonstrated separation of lipids from GTW and efficient conversion to biodiesel. Preliminary techno-economic analysis and life cycle assessment projects at Drexel have shown both economic feasibility and positive environmental impacts of grease-to-biodiesel processes; however, the results are highly sensitive to the composition of the waste grease and to the energy requirements of fractionation and purification process stages. This project will monitor and quantify the composition of waste greases to improve knowledge about the feasibility of grease-to-biodiesel processes.
This project evaluates converting the high-lipid portion of GTW into biofuels while reducing the management-intensity of the remaining waste. For example, heating and settling leads to the formation of four layers in grease trap waste from top to bottom: (1) brown grease lipids, (2) floating solids, (3) wastewater, and (4) sediments. Some organizations have proposed extracting the lipids – also called brown grease – from GTW and converting the lipids into biodiesel, but commercial success has been elusive. In the biofuels research laboratory at Drexel, we have developed a more efficient bubble-column reactor for converting brown grease to biodiesel. A critical challenge to the extraction and conversion processes is the highly variable composition of the waste grease that leads to variable yields of biodiesel and variable energy and chemical requirements. This project includes a longitudinal study of variability in GTW composition and quantity that will guide the analysis of alternative process designs for separating lipids from waste greases, converting the lipids to biodiesel, and purifying the biodiesel. A key outcome of the proposed project is evaluation of the economic and environmental sustainability of material conversion of waste greases to value-added biofuels within the wastewater management system.
Environmental Fuel Research, LLC was recently formed to pursue commercializing a process for converting of grease trap waste (GTW, a waste product with no value) into biodiesel using a unique Bubble Column Reactor technology pioneered by Dr. Richard Cairncross (PhD, Chemical Engineer) and student researchers at Drexel University. The Bubble Column Reactor was adopted after experiments proved it to be the simplest, most robust and most economical method. Nearly three quarters of domestic biodiesel is made from soybean oil, corn oil and used cooking oil. All of these feedstocks have become commodities and have prices that reflect being substitute goods for petroleum; however, they all have limited potential for increasing the amount of feedstock available for biodiesel production. Currently, GTW is treated as a liability, making it one of the few liquid hydrocarbons remaining without value.