An optimized process on pilot plant scale was carried out for the production of biodiesel from Mexican jatropha curcas L. oil. Initial studies were carried out at lab scale in order to determine the experimental conditions that could lead to a high yield of biodiesel from the alkaline transesterification of jatropha oil. The experimental conditions were in between the following intervals: temperature: 50 to 65 °C, reaction time: 30 to 120 min., catalyst type: NaOH and KOH, molar ratio of methanol to oil: 6:1 to 12:1, weight molar ratio of catalyst to oil: 0.5 to 1.5%. The optimal conditions were then used in the processing of the oil in a pilot plant. The plant consists of two 50 L-reactors that can be operated in either batch or continuous mode. Prior reaction, the oil was pretreated to reduce the amount of free fatty acids and moisture. After reaction, the biodiesel and glycerol phases were purified in two separated distillation towers. The optimization of the pilot plant was also carried out by simulating the plant with ASPEN PLUS. The yield of methyl esters at optimal conditions was 84wt%. The biodiesel was also characterized and its properties were found to be within the ASTM specified limits. The optimization of the reaction process at lab scale along with the simulation and optimization of the process at pilot scale leaded to an innovative separation and reaction schemes for the production of a high quality biodiesel from jatropha curcas L. oil.
Keywords: jatropha, pilot plant, optimization, simulation.&'
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