Sustainable, small-scale and decentralised biodiesel production is key to expanding the biofuels industry in South Africa and in other Southern African Development Community (SADC) member States, says biodiesel processing and equipment company Bioman Energy.
The company notes that a significant challenge for the biofuels industry is that not enough quality biodiesel is being produced to meet the 2013 supply target of a 2% biofuels penetration into the current fuel pool, as was outlined in the Biofuels Industrial Strategy that was released by the former Department of Minerals and Energy in 2007.
The extensive use of biodiesel in South Africa is directly impacted on by unsustainable production owing to the high cost and the general unavailability of quality feedstock oil, says Bioman Energy owner Janice Whitehead.
“Until now, the biodiesel industry has been suffocated because of the inability to successfully overcome the barriers of acquiring start-up funding, quality feedstock supply, process training and implementation, as well as peer support.
“Having a sustainable supply of quality feedstock oil is the point of departure for any aspiring biodiesel entrepreneur,” she says.
Bioman focuses on engaging potential entrepreneurs and funders to assist it in overcoming these barriers, while providing quality equipment and training.
Whitehead believes that changing the thinking of business in general from purely a short-term financial gain focus to a longer- term value-added and cooperative business model focus will positively impact on the growth of the biofuels industry.
Bioman, whose main business is the design and construction of small-scale 50 ℓ/d to 1 500 ℓ/d biodiesel production plants, offers entrepreneurial training that teaches the basics of the biodiesel manufacturing process.
The training, which pertains specifically to South Africa and the rest of the SADC region, provides information on the latest policy and political decisions that will affect the biofuels sector.
Training highlights issues such as: the way in which biofuel will play a leading role in sustainable mobility in air, sea and land transport; the market and availability for second-generation and advanced biofuel; international trade and sustainability regulations, implementation and impact; trading ethanol and supply-chain challenges; the entrepreneur and the market; sustainability, and biodiesel production tips.
Whitehead says she has been approached to present individual and group training sessions to highlight, specifically, the value of the cooperative and the entrepreneurial models, as well as practical production troubleshooting.
Bioman undertook a five-day, on-site biodiesel equipment installation project for an adventure camp in Magoebaskloof, in Limpopo, in April.
The camp will use the biodiesel to fuel its generators and vehicles on the property.
The 2 000 ℓ/d biodiesel production project was a client-specification installation that used both Bioman and non-Bioman equipment.
The company supplied three settling tanks, dry wash columns with a 200 ℓ/h capacity and all of the equipment and parts.
In addition to Bioman’s scope of work, the client plans to add a methanol recovery unit of its own design between the two 2 000 ℓ settling tanks and the 1 850 ℓ dry wash supply tank.
The company was asked to incorporate a second-hand 2 000 ℓ stainless steel heating tank for use as a reaction or heating vessel.
Whitehead says Bioman may be contracted to assist with the start-up of the project, with the focus on the particular client’s process of using chicken fat as the feedstock oil.
The client will render the chicken fat downhill from the processing equipment, which will require the thicker-than-normal oil to be pumped about 40 m uphill to the biofuels plant.
The challenge of using chicken fat and most waste vegetable oils (WVOs) as feedstock oil is that WVOs contain a mixture of different oils that have different compositions and free fatty acid levels.
This means that some of the oils do not completely convert to biodiesel during processing, which is the most significant problem encountered by biodiesel producers, says Whitehead.
The biodiesel process comprises esterification, transesterification and dry wash processes.
The esterification process entails adding and mixing a small quantity of sulphuric acid and methanol with the low-heated feedstock oil for every litre of waste oil. The mixture is left to settle for a day.
In the transesterification process, a fixed amount of potassium hydroxide and the remainder of the 20% methanol-to-oil ratio is added to the feedstock oil.
The acid added in the first part of the process breaks down the different oils either to oil or to biodiesel, effectively allowing for a complete conversion to biodiesel.
After effective settling of the biodiesel, it is slowly pumped through a lead-lag system of resin-containing columns that absorb impurities, such as water, glycerol and remaining solid particles, from the biodiesel.Further, t
he dry wash process is less labour- and time-intensive and largely eliminates the traditional water wash process, which, in turn conserves water and negates the problem of contaminated water disposal.
Meanwhile, Bioman was contracted by the African Conservation Trust, in St Lucia, KwaZulu-Natal, in April, to upgrade its existing 50 ℓ/d biodiesel unit. It was responsible for the design, planning and supply of additional fittings, consisting of dry wash columns and a 200 ℓ tank that will be added to the existing biodiesel unit.
The company also supplied a 50 ℓ unit to the University of Johannesburg’s School of Mining, Metallurgy and Chemical Engineering in mid-2011 and is communicating with the Vaal University of Technology about the installation of a basic 50 ℓ unit.