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Review examining the use of different feedstock for the production of biodiesel.

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Asia-Pac. J. Chem. Eng. 2007; 2: 480–486
Published online 17 August 2007 in Wiley InterScience
( DOI:10.1002/apj.085
Research Article
Review: examining the use of different feedstock for the
production of biodiesel
S. Behzadi* and M. M. Farid
Department of Chemical & Materials Engineering, University of Auckland, Auckland, New Zealand
Received 8 January 2007; Revised 15 February 2007; Accepted 23 February 2007
ABSTRACT: Biodiesel is an alternative fuel produced from triglycerides and fatty acids present in naturally occurring
fats and oils. However, owing to higher production costs it has had very little commercial use. It has been identified
that the cost of raw materials (this refers to fats and oils) accounts for more than 70% of the biodiesel production cost.
For biodiesel to play an active role in our energy needs, it requires to be produced at a much lower price while still
meeting international fuel standards.
The objective of this paper is to identify other feedstocks such as micro-organisms (e.g. algae), which can be used
for biodiesel production. By increasing the supply and lowering the price of feedstock, the overall cost of biodiesel can
be reduced allowing it to play a greater role in satisfying our energy needs.  2007 Curtin University of Technology
and John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
KEYWORDS: biodiesel; feedstock; manufacturing; production cost
Increased environmental awareness and the depletion
of oil reservoirs and reserves have made it necessary
for many industries to look for alternative sources of
fuel. Biomaterials and biofuels such as biodiesel and
bioethanol are some key examples of these alternative
fuels. The objective of this paper is to examine the production of biodiesel and identify non-conventional feedstock that can be used to improve its economic viability
as a fuel. It is believed that by lowering the cost and
increasing the supply of raw materials biodiesel would
have a greater contribution to our energy demands (Bender, 1999; Knothe et al ., 2005; Haas, 2005; Dorado
et al ., 2006; Haas et al ., 2006). At present several countries such Brazil, United States and several European
countries are already using biofuels. It is expected that
this trend will grow and more countries will use biofuels (Bender, 1999; Korbitz, 1999; International Energy
Agency, 2004; Dorado et al ., 2006; Haas et al ., 2006).
Biodiesel is an alternative fuel produced from triglycerides and fatty acids present in naturally occurring
fats and oils. It is generally produced through a
transesterification reaction of triglyceride molecules
present in fats and oils with alcohol, such as ethanol
and methanol (Eqn (1)). These fuels have properties
similar to those of diesel produced from conventional
oil processing. More importantly, biodiesel can be used
directly to run existing diesel engines. In addition,
biodiesel is renewable and biodegradable and produces
better quality exhaust gas emissions (Muniyappa et al .,
1996; Ma and Hanna, 1999; Canakci, 2005; Gerpen,
Triglycedrides + Methanol
Glycerin + Methyl esters
Equation 1: Transesterification reaction.
Biodiesel is considered as a suitable substitute for
petroleum-derived diesel fuel either as blends or 100%
feed. However, compared to petroleum-derived diesel
fuel, the production cost of biodiesel is higher, making
it uneconomical as a direct fuel substitute at present
without government tax rebates. This higher production
cost is mainly due to its higher raw material cost (Zhang
et al ., 2003a; International Energy Agency, 2004; Haas,
2005; Haas et al ., 2006).
Biodiesel manufacturing
*Correspondence to: S. Behzadi, Department of Chemical & Materials Engineering, University of Auckland, Auckland, New Zealand.
 2007 Curtin University of Technology and John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
To understand the costs associated with biodiesel production, it is important to establish the manufacturing
Asia-Pacific Journal of Chemical Engineering
steps involved (Figs 1 and 2). The biodiesel production
process consists of raw material production (e.g. fats/oil,
alcohol and catalyst) followed by biodiesel processing
and product distribution. Each step has an associated
cost. The defining step in the process is raw biodiesel
material production, as it establishes the type and quality of feedstock that can be used (Zhang et al ., 2003a,b;
International Energy Agency, 2004; Haas et al ., 2006).
As illustrated in Eqn 1, biodiesel is generally produced through a transesterification reaction of fats and
oils with small chain alcohols such as methanol and
ethanol. Oils and fats commonly used for biodiesel production include palm oil, coconut oil, rapeseed (canola)
oil, sunflower oil, beef tallow, used frying oil, mustard
and soybean oil. However, rapeseed has the highest oil
yield per acre of any conventional crop currently used
for biodiesel production and is the main feedstock used
Production and
in Europe. It accounts for 84% of world biodiesel raw
material resources followed by sunflower oil at 13%
(Weeks, 2005). Conventionally, biodiesel is produced
in batch processes using alkali catalysts such as sodium
and potassium hydroxide (NaOH and KOH). Alkali
processes are much faster and have a much shorter reaction time than other processes (Freedman et al ., 1983;
Freedman et al ., 1986; Ma and Hanna, 1999; Gerpen,
2005). In practice, the reaction time for a batch process
can vary between 1 and 2 h depending on the feedstock quality and reaction condition to reach yields of
Given that the reaction process is very sensitive,
high-grade feedstock is generally used in order to
eliminate the formation of unwanted by-products such
as soap. This is a major problem in the alkali-catalysed
process since the catalyst can undergo saponification
reaction with free fatty acids present in the triglyceride
feed forming soap (Eqn (2)). For alkali processes, a
feedstock containing low levels of impurities such as
water and free fatty acid (FFA) are required. Preferably,
the triglyceride feed should contain less than; 0.5% FFA
and zero moisture. The refining cost to produce such
high-quality feedstock is usually high (Freedman et al .,
1983; Ma et al ., 1998; Zhang et al ., 2003a; Haas, 2005;
Gerpen, 2005; Haas et al ., 2006).
Figure 1. General biodiesel production steps.
Fatty acid Potassium hydroxide
K+-O C R + H2O
Potassium soap
Equation 2: Saponification reaction.
Figure 2. General biodiesel batch process.
 2007 Curtin University of Technology and John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
Asia-Pac. J. Chem. Eng. 2007; 2: 480–486
DOI: 10.1002/apj
Asia-Pacific Journal of Chemical Engineering
Fatty acid Methanol
CH3 O C R + H2O (3)
Methyl ester Water
Equation 3: Acid catalysed reaction.
Given the lower rate of reaction and longer reaction
times required, this type of process by itself is not
practical on an industrial scale. Hence, in some of
the processes studied, acid catalysts have been used in
conjunction with base catalysts (e.g. a two stage reaction
process). They are used in the primary stage, to convert
the FFAs to methyl esters, followed by a base catalyst
process to convert the remaining triglycerides to methyl
ester (Fig. 3). This is useful because it allows the use
of low-grade feedstock which normally would not have
been used (Zhang et al ., 2003a,b; Goff et al ., 2004;
Gerpen, 2005).
In addition to the higher product costs, the raw
materials needed for biodiesel production are limited
and not enough to meet current energy demands and
replace the use of oil-derived diesel. In spite of this,
in recent years more interest has surfaced from various
organisations and government agencies to use biodiesel
in blends of 5–20% to reduce the load on crude-oilderived diesel fuel. At present, several European and
US companies are producing large volumes of biodiesel
from oil crops (soybean and rapeseed oil). However, the
volumes produced are typically only sufficient for local
markets and not for general export.
 2007 Curtin University of Technology and John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
(Acid catalyst)
Acid Process
Triglyceride Feed
containing Free
Fatty Acid
Fatty Acid Alcohol Ester
As described by Zhang and associates (Zhang et al .,
2003a), approximately 70–95% of the total biodiesel
production cost arises from the raw material cost. It is
believed by many researchers and manufacturers that
for biodiesel to be economical, lower grade feedstocks,
which cost less, need to be utilised (Haas et al ., 2003;
Haas, 2005; Haas et al ., 2006). However, this is not
practical with the conventional alkali process, as high
yield losses can occur.
To overcome saponification problems, acid catalysts
are alternatively used for feedstock with high FFA content. In these processes alkali catalysts are replaced
with acid catalysts such as sulfuric acid, sulfonic acids
and hydrochloric acid (Eqn (3)). Reactions catalysed by
acid catalysts have a lower reaction rate and achieve
lower yields than the alkali process. In general, depending on the reaction conditions, the time required to
reach reasonable yield can take many hours using a
batch process (Gerald, 1945; Robert et al ., 1987; Haas
et al ., 2003; Goff et al ., 2004; Haas, 2005). The acidic
process is more suitable for the conversion of FFA
molecules present in the feed source (e.g. animal fat
or vegetable oil) to methyl ester than the triglyceride
molecules (Eqn (2)) (Zhang et al ., 2003a,b; Goff et al .,
2004; Gerpen, 2005).
(Alkali catalyst)
Alkali Process
Product (Fatty
Acid Alcohol
Figure 3. Two-stage biodiesel production.
Biodiesel costing
It has been well established that biodiesel from agricultural material such as vegetable oil from food crops
and animal fats are a possible substitute for conventional diesel fuel. Therefore, the economics of biodiesel
as a fuel is very important for its success as a diesel
substitute. As discussed earlier, biodiesel’s overall cost
consists of raw material (production and processing),
catalyst, biodiesel processing (energy, consumables and
labour), transportation (raw materials and final products), and local and national taxes. However, the greatest contributor to the overall cost of biodiesel is the
feedstock and its processing (Haas et al ., 2006; Nelson
and Schrock, 2006).
Hass and associates (Haas et al ., 2006) have established a generic process model for estimating biodiesel
costing. The model examines the cost of biodiesel production on the basis of degummed vegetable oil using
a continuous transesterification process. The model
was based on a process plant with a 37, 854, 118 l
(10 × 106 gal) capacity. The model also excluded some
economic factors such as internal rate of return, economic life, corporate tax rate, salvage value, debt fraction, construction interest rate and long term interest
rate, working capital, environmental control equipment,
marketing and distribution expenses, the cost of capital,
and the existence of governmental credits or subsidies
were excluded from these calculations. The model estimated a final biodiesel production cost of US$0.53/l
(US$2.00 gal) and illustrated that the raw material cost
constitutes the greatest component of the overall cost.
The degummed soybean oil contributed 88% of the
overall production cost. (Refer to Fig. 4 for the impact
of feedstock price on predicted unit cost of biodiesel
from high-grade soybean oil.)
The Haas model also illustrated that some gains
can be achieved by the sale of crude glycerol from
Asia-Pac. J. Chem. Eng. 2007; 2: 480–486
DOI: 10.1002/apj
Asia-Pacific Journal of Chemical Engineering
Figure 4. Effect of oil feedstock on biodiesel overall cost
(Haas et al., 2006).
Figure 5. Effect of glycerol sale on biodiesel overall cost
(Haas et al., 2006).
the process. However, it should be noted that this is
very negligible and will not have much effect, as the
amount of glycerol increases in the market as biodiesel
production increases. Figure 5 illustrates the effect of
glycerol sale on biodiesel overall cost.
Bender (Bender, 1999) also predicted a biodiesel cost
of US$0.54–0.62l for vegetable oil and US$0.34–0.42/l
for waste grease at a time when pre-tax diesel fuel
was US$ 0.18/l in US and US$ 0.20–0.24/l in some
European countries. Bender (Bender, 1999) also demonstrated that biodiesel at the time of study was not economical because of higher feedstock prices.
Even with higher production costs, biodiesel production has begun to expand exponentially as more governments, concerned with the growing volatility and
increasing prices in the international oil market, discover the benefits of biodiesel as a petroleum fuel
substitute. The implementation of the Kyoto protocol has also been an incentive for many countries
to move towards alternative fuels such as biodiesel.
Biodiesel has been manufactured on an industrial scale
 2007 Curtin University of Technology and John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
in Europe since 1992. Europe has been the global leader
in biodiesel production with Germany, France Austria
and Italy being the largest producers in the region. At
present there are more than 50 plants in Western Europe
with a production capacity greater than 1500 million
litres per year. (Refer to Fig. 6 for global biodiesel
production) (International Energy Agency, 2004; Pahl,
2005). In Europe, biodiesel was assisted through the
use of set-aside land which was used to grow crops
for biodiesel and biofuel production. In addition, the
European Union (EU) rewarded the biofuel producers
with tax incentives while increasing taxes for industries with high emission problems. This has also been
implemented by many non-European nations, with their
respective governments giving large commercial producers a tax rebate. The United States has also increased
its production with many states undertaking field trials on the performance and production of biodiesel
from various feedstock. It is expected that biodiesel
consumption will increase with more countries using
it as an alternative fuel to meet their energy demands
while simultaneously increasing their energy independence (International Energy Agency, 2004; Pahl, 2005).
Alternative feedstock for biodiesel production
Without government support through tax, biodiesel at
present is not economical because of the high cost of
feedstock. However, it has been demonstrated through
field trials that biodiesel either as a blend (e.g. B5-B20)
or as neat biodiesel (100%) is an excellent alternative
for diesel fuel. Therefore, it is important to identify
other feedstock that can make biodiesel an alternative
The majority of the research in this area has been
focussed on using refined high-quality vegetable and
animal fat as the main feedstock supply. In most cases
these feedstock are very expensive and limited in supply
as they are used in the food industry. To overcome this
Figure 6. World biodiesel production (International Energy
Agency, 2004).
Asia-Pac. J. Chem. Eng. 2007; 2: 480–486
DOI: 10.1002/apj
problem the use of waste oil such as waste kitchen
oil from fast food chains has been suggested and
studied. As discussed earlier, for low-quality feedstock
the process is generally carried out using either an acid
catalyst or a two-stage acid/alkali process.
Zhang and associates (Zhang et al ., 2003a) carried
out an economic study on the use of waste cooking oil
and vegetable oils for four continuous alkali- and acidcatalysed processes. Process I was an alkali-catalysed
process using virgin vegetable oil. Process II was
an acid/alkali process using waste cooking oil as the
feedstock. The acid catalyst was used in an esterification
(i.e. pre-treatment) unit prior to the transesterification
unit to reduce the content of free fatty acid. Process
III was an acid-catalysed process using waste cooking
oil. The process used two reactors in series for the
esterification and transesterification reaction. Process
IV was similar to process III, except that hexane was
used as an extraction solvent rather than water washing
to avoid the formation of emulsions.
Results from the study demonstrated that the alkalicatalysed process using virgin oil (process I) had the
lowest total capital investment. The capital investment
of Process I was approximately half that of the others.
Thus, it required the least initial investment when
building a biodiesel plant.
The study also illustrated that the raw material costs
accounted for a major portion of the total manufacturing
cost. Virgin oil costs approximately 2–3 times more
than waste cooking oil, indicating that the use of virgin
oil (high-grade) leads to a substantial increase in total
manufacturing cost. Thus, the reduction of the raw
material cost should be the first step in optimising the
total manufacturing cost. As a result, the study proved
that although process I had the lowest cost requirement
for building a biodiesel plant, it had high manufacturing
cost offsetting any economic advantage in terms of
return on investment or biodiesel break-even price.
Alternatively, the acid/alkali process II using waste
oil of low cost was slightly better than process I on
overall biodiesel production cost. However, it was found
that the cost associated with the acid pre-treatment unit,
including the cost for extra solvent, more than balanced
the credit of using waste oil. This led to a reduced
economic feasibility for process II. On the basis of aftertax rate of return and breakeven price of biodiesel, the
acid-catalysed processes III and IV using waste cooking
oil were economically competitive alternatives to the
alkali process for biodiesel production.
Haas (2005) also studied the use of soybean oil
soapstock as a possible feedstock for biodiesel production. Soapstock is a by-product of the edible-oil
refining lipids and moisture. The study examined multiple approaches for converting the soapstock into
biodiesel. The most effective method involved complete saponification of the soapstock followed by an
acid esterification using methanol. The process had an
 2007 Curtin University of Technology and John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
Asia-Pacific Journal of Chemical Engineering
overall conversion greater than 90%. An economic analysis of the process suggested that the production cost
of biodiesel from soapstock would be approximately
around US$0.41/l, 25% cheaper than the estimated cost
of biodiesel from refined soybean oil.
Other oil crops with lower production costs have
also been studied. Frohlich and Rice (2005) examined
the use of Camelina sativa (camelina) as feedstock for
biodiesel production. Camelina is similar to rapeseed
oil, however, with a lower production cost. The laboratory and pilot plant results illustrated that the alcohol
ester from camelina was satisfactory, within specification and lower in price to that of rapeseed oil biodiesel.
Brassica carinata has also been evaluated as an alternative for the production of biodiesel. Cardone and
associates (Cardone et al ., 2003) studied the use of
Brassica carinata as an alternative oil crop for the production of biodiesel in Italy. The results from the study
illustrated that Brassica carinata was capable of growing in areas not suitable for other oil crops. From their
results, the biodiesel produced using the oil extracted
from the Brassica carinata displayed physico-chemical
properties suitable for the use as car diesel fuel.
However, even with these alternative feedstocks the
price of biodiesel is only marginally reduced, with very
little change in overall production volume. With conventional feedstock several limitations exist. For example, most feedstock are available only in a given season.
In addition, they are used in large quantities for other
processes such as in the food industry. Biodiesel produced from a given feedstock may not be suitable for
the geographical location it is going to be used in.
For example, biodiesel from beef tallow or highly saturated fats are not suitable for areas that experience
extreme cold temperatures. Biodiesels from these materials are more susceptible to cold-temperature plugging
and poor engine performance. This further limits feedstock resources.
Knothe (2005) investigated the dependence of biodiesel fuel properties on the structure of fatty acid alkyl
esters. The study illustrated that the individual fatty acid
esters all vary in physical properties and have a great
effect on the physical properties of biodiesel such as
cetane number, cold flow, oxidative stability, viscosity
and lubricity. The cetane number, heat of combustion,
melting point and viscosity of neat fatty compounds
increase with increasing chain length and decrease
with increasing unsaturation. In addition, feedstock for
biodiesel are labour intensive and require large amount
of consumables such as water and regular use of
On the other hand, several researchers have examined
the use of algae/microalgae as a biomass source for the
biodiesel production and other biofuel process. Algae
or microalgae are simple plants that can carry out
photosynthesis. They have the ability to convert water
Asia-Pac. J. Chem. Eng. 2007; 2: 480–486
DOI: 10.1002/apj
Asia-Pacific Journal of Chemical Engineering
and carbon dioxide into biomass (Eqn (4)) (Sheehan
et al ., 1998).
CO2 + H2 O −−→ (CH2 O)n + O2
Equation 4: Photosynthesis reaction.
Microalgae are single-celled plants that possess
advanced photosynthesis capacity similar to high-order
plants, which have two photosystems and the ability to
split water. Microalgae have high growth rates and tolerance to varying environmental conditions. They can
survive and reproduce in low-quality, high-saline water
(Brown and Zeiler, 1993; Sheehan et al ., 1998). This
feature has allowed microalgae to be used in wastewater treatment plants for sludge treatment (Gray, 2004).
In addition, since they have high CO2 trapping and fixation ability, the use of algae farms has been suggested
to reduce carbon dioxide emission from power plants
and other industries with high carbon dioxide emission
(Brown and Zeiler, 1993). This is a major environmental issue. Accumulation of excess carbon dioxide in the
atmosphere (greenhouse effect) is causing major climatic changes affecting the natural environment, such
as global warming. This is a serious problem, as very
few solutions are available for carbon dioxide reduction.
As described earlier in this paper, biodiesel can greatly
assist in carbon dioxide reduction, since the feedstocks
used in its production are derived from naturally occurring sources such as fats and oils. Brown and Zeiler
(1993) suggest that microalgae or cyanobacteria can be
used in bioreactors to reduce carbon dioxide emission
from power plants and use the biomass generated for
biodiesel production.
It should be noted that algae consist of 16 different
groups and have discrete characteristics. Depending on
the cultivation environment some species can reach
an oil content of 50% based on dry weight. This is
much higher than any other high-order oil crops. In
addition, the fatty acid and lipid content of algae can
be altered, based on culture environment (e.g. light and
nutrients). This is a further advantage as the fatty acid
chains can be altered (e.g. chain length and level of
saturation) (Brown and Zeiler, 1993; Miyamoto, 1997;
Sheehan et al ., 1998; Briggs, 2005). This would allow
the biodiesel to be customised to meet geographical
Miao and Wu (2006) studied the production of
biodiesel from heterotrophic microalgal oil. The study
illustrated that Chlorella protothecoides under a heterotrophic growth regime can be used for biodiesel
production. The extracted oil from Chlorella protothecoides was converted to methyl ester using an acid
catalyst since the oil had high acid value.
According to Miyamoto (1997), microalgae posses
several attractive characteristics that are ideal for
biodiesel production:
 2007 Curtin University of Technology and John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
1. Costs associated with the harvesting and transportation of microalgae are relatively low, in comparison
with those of other biomass materials such as trees
and conventional crops;
2. Microalgae can be chemically treated;
3. Algae can grow under conditions that are unsuitable
for conventional crops;
4. Microalgae are capable of fixing CO2 in the atmosphere, thereby assisting the reduction of atmospheric CO2 levels, which are now considered a
global problem.
Therefore, on the basis of the available information,
microalgae may be used in the following arrangement
(Fig. 6).
According to Sheehan and associates (Sheehan et al .,
1998) there is significant potential of land, water
and CO2 resources at present to support an algaebased biodiesel technology. Algal biodiesel could easily
supply a significant amount of energy in the form of
biodiesel, much greater than any other oilseed crop
can provide. Sheehan et al . (1998) state that although
the technology faces many R&D hurdles before it can
become practicable, there is sufficient resources for this
technology to proceed.
As described in Fig. 7 algae/microalgae can be
used in existing wastewater treatment processes during
sludge treatment to minimise algae-farm construction
and increase in waste recycling. The sludge can provide the water and nutrients needed for algae growth.
With aeration or introduction of carbon dioxide through
the ponds, the algae can convert carbon dioxide and
water through photosynthesis into lipids and carbohydrates. Since algae has a high growth rate, they would be
continuously removed and processed for their oil. That
oil would then be used for fuel production in conventional biodiesel processes. This process could increase
the energy recovery from waste sludge and reduce carbon dioxide outputs. The waste biomass can also be
reused as feed material for algae growth or in other
agricultural process. More importantly it can reduce the
price of biodiesel feedstock because less capital and
operating cost are required. Algal oil, in addition to
Fuel for
Waste Water
Coal or Fossil
Fuel Power
Sun Light
Waste Water
Water Ponds
from Algae
Algae/ Microalgae
Figure 7. Microalgae in biodiesel process.
Asia-Pac. J. Chem. Eng. 2007; 2: 480–486
DOI: 10.1002/apj
conventional feedstock, can greatly improve the economics of biodiesel. It should be noted that this is a
hypothetical solution, and more research is required.
Biodiesel is an alternative fuel produced from triglycerides and fatty acids present in naturally occurring fats
and oils. It has properties similar to those of diesel fuel
produced from conventional refining processes and it
can be used as blends (B5-20) or 100% feed. However, because of higher production cost caused by
higher feedstock cost (greater than 70% of overall cost),
biodiesel is still more expensive than petroleum derived
To overcome this problem the use of waste oil/lowquality oil with high FFA has been suggested and
studied. These are feedstock containing higher levels of
FFA and other impurities. These feedstock can either
be treated by FFA removal or directly used in an acidcatalysed process.
Other oil crops such as Camelina sativa and Brassica carinata with lower production cost have also been
studied. The results from the different studies have illustrated that these oil crops are capable of growing in
areas not suitable for other oil crops and biodiesel produced from them displayed physico-chemical properties
suitable for use as diesel fuel.
Research has also been undertaken at a lesser level
on the use of oil from microalgae and algae as an alternative feedstock for the biodiesel process. However,
research in this area is still limited and in early stages.
In summary, on the basis of the available information,
biodiesel is an excellent substitute for diesel fuel.
However, it is not economically feasible because of
higher production costs. More research is required
for alternative feedstock with lower production cost.
By increasing the volume of feedstock, biodiesel can
alternatively meet more of our energy requirement than
currently is capable.
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DOI: 10.1002/apj
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production, biodiesel, examining, different, feedstock, use, review
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