Recent developments in heterogeneous catalysis for the sustainable production of biodiesel

Adam F. Lee, Karen Wilson*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The quest for energy security and widespread acceptance of the anthropogenic origin of rising CO2 emissions and associated climate change from combusting fossil derived carbon sources, is driving academic and commercial research into new routes to sustainable fuels to meet the demands of a rapidly rising global population. Biodiesel is one of the most readily implemented and low cost, alternative source of transportation fuels to meet future societal demands. However, current practises to produce biodiesel via transesterification employing homogeneous acids and bases result in costly fuel purification processes and undesired pollution. Life-cycle calculations on biodiesel synthesis from soybean feedstock show that the single most energy intensive step is the catalytic conversion of TAGs into biodiesel, accounting for 87% of the total primary energy input, which largely arises from the quench and separation steps. The development of solid acid and base catalysts that respectively remove undesired free fatty acid (FFA) impurities, and transform naturally occurring triglycerides found within plant oils into clean biodiesel would be desirable to improve process efficiency. However, the microporous nature of many conventional catalysts limits their ability to convert bulky and viscous feeds typical of plant or algal oils. Here we describe how improved catalyst performance, and overall process efficiency can result from a combination of new synthetic materials based upon templated solid acids and bases with hierarchical structures, tailored surface properties and use of intensified process allowing continuous operation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3-18
Number of pages16
JournalCatalysis Today
Issue numberPart A
Early online date23 May 2014
Publication statusPublished - 15 Mar 2015

Bibliographical note

Funding: EPSRC (EP/F063423/2; EP/K000616/1) and the award of a Leadership Fellowship (EP/G007594/2); the Royal Society for the award of an Industry Fellowship.


  • biodiesel
  • esterification
  • hierarchical supports
  • mesoporous materials
  • solid acid and base
  • transesterification


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