Sulfate and Hydroxide Supported on Zirconium Oxide Catalysts for Biodiesel Production

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Virginia Tech


Biodiesel is currently produced by homogeneous catalysis. More recently however, heterogeneous catalysis is being considered as a cheaper alternative to the homogeneous process. In this research project, heterogeneous catalysts of zirconium oxide were produced by impregnation.

Zirconium oxide impregnation with sulfuric acid produced acidic solid catalysts. It was determined that impregnation and calcination at 550oC (SO₄/ZrO₂-550oC) produced the best catalyst for palmitic acid esterification with 10 wt % as the optimum concentration in esterification of palmitic acid. SO₄/ZrO₂-550oC was successfully recycled for eight consecutive runs before permanent deactivation. Its sulfur content was 1.04 wt % using SEM-EDS and 2.05 wt % using XPS for characterization. BET surface area was 90.89 m2/g. The reaction mechanism over Brønsted acid (SO₄/ZrO₂-550oC) and Lewis acid (Al₂O₃) catalysts obeyed Eley-Rideal kinetics with palmitic acid and methanol adsorbed on the active site respectively.

Zirconium oxide was also impregnated with sodium hydroxide to produce basic catalysts. The best catalyst was produced when zirconium oxide was impregnated with 1.5 M NaOH and calcined at 600oC. Soybean oil was completely converted to biodiesel with 10 wt % catalyst and 1:6 oil to methanol. A mixture of the base catalyst with 30 wt % SO₄/ZrO₂-550oC effectively converted soybean oil containing 5% oleic acid indicating that this mixture could be used for waste oils. The reaction was first order with respect to triglyceride and second order with respect to methanol. The activation energy was 49.35 kJ/mol and the reaction mechanism obeyed Langmuir-Hinshelwood kinetics.



Biodiesel, heterogeneous catalysis, transesterification, esterification, zirconium oxide, sulfated zirconium, hydroxide zirconium