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Techno-economic and life cycle analyses for a supercritical biodiesel production process from waste cooking oil for a plant located in the Midwest United States

by Prashant S Nagapurkar, Joseph Smith
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Environment, Development and Sustainability
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Existing literature lacks detailed techno-economic and environmental life cycle analyses (TEA-LCA) focused on supercritical biodiesel production pathways produced via waste products. Therefore, in this work, the TEA-LCA was conducted to generate supercritical biodiesel from waste cooking oil for plants located in the Midwest region of USA having annual production capacities of 10,600 and 128,000 t using Aspen Plus and GREET softwares. Two plant production capacities were chosen to capture the economies of scale impact on biodiesel manufacture cost. In the supercritical process, methanol and propane were used as a cosolvent to synthesize biodiesel from waste cooking oil (WCO) at 280 °C and 128 bar at a residence time of 8.4 min and a WCO conversion rate of 97%. Economic analysis revealed that the supercritical process was an economically attractive pathway with a 2-year payback period for the 10,600 t/year capacity along with a break-even selling price of $2.42/gal of diesel. In case of the larger plant (128,000 t/year capacity), the payback period and the breakeven selling price were considerably lower at values of 0.4 years and $1.31/gal of diesel, respectively, due to economies of scale impact. The generated biodiesel from supercritical process for the both the plant capacities met European (EN14214) and US (ASTM D6751) fuel quality standards while the obtained commercially valuable side product, i.e., glycerol, adhered to a pharmaceutical grade of 99.7%. Cradle to gate life cycle analysis using GREET revealed that supercritical process possessed 17% lower CO2 emissions than alkali-catalyzed process and 4% lower CO2 emissions than the conventional diesel production process. Other biodiesel production pathways in the literature were also compared to the results of the TEA-LCA of supercritical biodiesel production pathway.