Oilfield & Energies

New pilot plant converts used cooking oil into biodiesel

The Centre for Process Innovation (CPI), the UK’s technology innovation provider for process manufacturing, has announced that its partnership with Green Lizard Technologies (GLT), and their licensed company Oleocycle Ltd, will be providing a second-use to waste cooking oils via a novel one-step pilot plant that converts oils into low sulfur biodiesel feedstocks, and a range of other useful chemicals. Using CPI facilities and expertise in process engineering, CPI and GLT scaled-up the technology to ton scale in less than four months, reaching a major milestone on time and under cost. This scale of operation was an important pre-commercial step to Oleocycle’s 10,000 tonnes per annum (tpa) plant, expected for sanction later in the year.
Sustainable alternatives to conventional petroleum and diesel are being sought to answer the growing need for non-fossil, environmentally friendly vehicle fuels. One solution to this worldwide problem is biodiesel; a renewable and environmentally friendly fuel typically derived from vegetable or animal oils. Green Lizard Technologies, a spin out company from Queen’s University Belfast focused on offering solutions to the biggest global problems, has developed a process for converting used, waste cooking oils into low sulfur biodiesel. A direct consequence of this novel process is co-production of a range of oleochemicals – chemicals produced from plant or animal fats – and intermediates. These can be used as important ingredients for a range of surfactants, soaps, health care products and detergents.
In practice, converting waste products into biodiesel feedstock is a cumbersome process. Waste cooking oil is rich in difficult-to-remove free fatty acids, restricting reuse. The process developed by GLT works by displacing the fatty acids from an oil phase into a water phase, allowing for a straightforward separation, and isolates the valuable fatty acids in high purity, ready for further separation. The oil phase is removed and processed on-site into a feedstock suitable for commercial use in ultra-low sulfur biodiesel.
The process had been conducted as a small-scale laboratory pilot prior to working with CPI, but the team needed help produce enough material for the desired 10,000 tpa plant. After approaching CPI, the process was examined before being integrated into CPI’s Industrial Biotechnology and Biorefining facility in Teesside. In August 2017, GLT began the process of industrially scaling their process using equipment and guidance provided by CPI. Integrating GLT’s technology directly into the Wilton site was essential to rapidly move to the next stage of commercialization. Trials of processes that would typically take months were made simple thanks to the close proximity of process engineering expertise and equipment that was available at CPI.
The rapid timeline of this intermediate scale up process is testament to CPI’s expertise. By December 2017 equipment had been successfully established with the capability to treat 300 litres of waste cooking oil for biodiesel production. Further scaling innovations in collaboration with CPI are ongoing, with the completion of a 10,000 litre capacity plant expected by 2019.
 “CPI have been a great help and have enabled us to move from our laboratory pilots at QUB to pre-production operation, validate the commercial design of the plant in record time and, more importantly, allow us to produce oleochemicals and biodiesel feedstock direct to potential customers” said Professor Martin Atkins, CEO of Green Lizard Technologies.
“Waste oils are becoming an important resource for second use chemicals rather than burning directly in fuel. The patented technologies by GLT and Oleocycle are key to commercializing this problematic waste stream. It will enable users of cooking oils and large commercial fryers to dispose of their wastes effectively, and in the knowledge they will be used for other high value applications. Working with CPI in the last few months has been fantastic to help us achieve ton scale production for customer acceptance ahead of releasing funds for the first large-scale plant (10,000 tpa) to be built at Wilton site.”
Matthew Abbott, Project Manager of the collaboration with Green Lizard Technologies at CPI, said: “The opportunity to work with companies like GLT and its partners in Wilton is one of the privileges of working for CPI. GLT and partners have a range of exciting processes they aim to commercialize that will provide sustainable routes to important chemicals. We look forward to working with and helping GLT scale up these processes to commercial levels.”