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Development and assessment of microreactors applied to biodiesel production

Edgar Leonardo Martínez Arias
Total Authors: 1
Document type: Master's Dissertation
Institution: Universidade Estadual de Campinas (UNICAMP). Faculdade de Engenharia Química
Defense date:
Examining board members:
Luiz Otávio Saraiva Ferreira; Izaque Alves Maia
Advisor: Rubens Maciel Filho

Microreactor technology is an important method of process intensification which offers potential benefits to the chemical process industries due to the well-defined high specific interfacial area available for heat and mass transfer, which increases transfer rates, improves efficiency and reactor performance, and enhances safety resulting from low holdups when compared to the conventional reactors. The immiscible liquid-liquid two-phase flow has shown a better intensifying of mass transfer through application of internal structures that serve as passive mixers in microreactors, which enhances diffusive penetration and consequently increases the reaction rates observed. The present work highlights the hydrodynamics and the influence of process parameters in the intensification of the continuous biodiesel production using an alkaline catalyst in three different microreactors through complementary experimental and computational techniques. Initially, experiments were carried out to characterize the castor oil as potential feedstock for biodiesel production. Rheological test, differential scanning calorimetry (DSC), thermogravimetric analysis (TG/DTG) and gas chromatography were performed. Size-exclusion chromatography (SEC) was used to evaluate the different variables that affect the transesterification reaction of castor oil with anhydrous ethanol and sodium hydroxide as catalyst in a jacketed glass batch reactor. The effects of temperature, ethanol/castor oil molar ratio, catalyst concentration, and reaction time were analyzed by observing the variation of the reaction medium composition. A mathematical model was applied to describe chemical kinetic of transesterification based on the reversible mechanism of the reactions. Traditional micromanufacturing technology such as photolithography and soft lithography using SU-8 photoresist and polydimethylsiloxane (PDMS) respectively were employed for fabrication of microreactors. Several difficulties of SU-8 processing to obtain complex structures through the photolithography process have been discussed. In the soft lithography process the mold was fabricated based on photolithography techniques, and SU-8 photoresist was used to construct microreactor structure templates. Experiments were carried out to allow an examination of the influence of reactor path geometry. Three different templates were applied for evaluation: T-, Omega, and Tesla-shaped microreactors. The mixing inside of microreactors at low Reynolds number was evaluated with experimental procedures and computational fluid dynamics simulations (CFD). A qualitative characterization of the mixing was firstly carried out by observing the mixture evolution of castor oil/ethanol at different rate flow ratios on basis of the transfer of a solvatochromatic dye between the two immiscible fluids. In addition, CFD methodologies were developed to characterize internal circulations and to capture the generation mixing mechanism without chemical reaction, improved the understanding of immiscible ethanol/castor oil system. Finally, continuous biodiesel production was studied in the microreactors in order to evaluate the influence of the geometrical parameters, catalyst amount, reaction temperature, molar ratio ethanol to oil, and residence time on performance of the reaction. The Tesla-Shaped microreactor exhibited higher conversions at low Reynolds number when compared with T- and Omega-shaped microreactors. Ethyl ester conversion was about 98.9% in Tesla-shaped microreactor, whereas for T- and Omega-shaped microreactor it was only about 79.1% and 96.2% respectively. On the other hand, fiber-optic near infrared spectroscopy was used to evaluate the possibility of monitoring quantitatively the transesterification reaction on-line. (AU)