How Ethyl Levulinate Can Change Biofuel Possibilities

Ethyl Levulinate kind of sounds like one of those weird mystery ingredients on the back of a junk food wrapper, doesn’t it? Well, it’s probably not a part of your food, but it could be a part of your fuel. Scientists have begun to test Ethyl Levulinate as an additive for biodiesel blends.

First of all, what exactly is Ethyl Levulinate? Professor Michael Hayes of the Carbolea Research Group at the University of Limerick in Ireland defines it as “a novel diesel miscible biofuel produced by esterifying ethanol with levulinic acid.” Also known as ethyl 4-oxopentanoate, Ethyl Levulinate is beginning to be mixed with existing biofuel sources. 

Why do we need to add Ethyl Levulinate to biodiesel? Certain biodiesel sources have poor cold flow properties due to high saturated fatty acid content. In a study from the publication Biomass and Bioenergy, scientists used cottonseed oil and poultry fats due to their high saturated fat content. The cloud point, the pour point, and the cold filter plugging points were all improved by 3-5 degrees Celsius upon addition of  Ethyl Levulinate volumes of 2.5%, 5%, 10%, and 20% volume. Another positive outcome was that all sample volumes still satisfied the ASTM D6751 limit with respect to flash point. 

Although Ethyl Levulinate is just making its way onto the biodiesel scene, many countries are very interested in its potential. The organization DIBANET (Development of Integrated Biomass Approaches Network) outlines a specific plan for utilizing Ethyl Levulinate from waste in Europe and Latin America. Certain universities have been studying the affects of the additive in the United States, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture has also paid researchers to further devote their time into the research and development of Ethyl Levulinate as a biofuel additive. It may just be a matter of time before Ethyl Levulinate is a key part of the biodiesel that will power our vehicles, and heat our homes and businesses. 

Glossary:

Cloud Point– Temperature where wax crystals first appear

Cold Filter Plugging Points – The lowest operating temperature in which a vehicle will operate

Esterifying – To convert to an ester (a compound produced by the reaction between an acid and an alcohol with the elimination of a molecule of water, as ethyl acetate, C 4 H 8 O 2, or dimethyl sulfate, C 2 H 6 SO 4.)

Ethanol – An alcohol obtained from the fermentation of sugars and starches or by chemical synthesis. It is the intoxicating ingredient of alcoholic beverages, and is also used as a solvent, in explosives, and as an additive to or replacement for petroleum-based fuels. Also called ethyl alcohol, grain alcohol. Chemical formula: C 2 H 6 O.

Levulinic Acid – a white or colorless, water-soluble solid, C 5 H 8 O 3, produced by the hydrolysis of cane sugar, starch, or cellulose; used chiefly in the organic synthesis of nylon, plastics, and pharmaceuticals.

Pour Point– Lowest temperature where fuel is observed to flow

Sources:

dictionary.reference.com

http://www.biodiesel.org/docs/default-source/ffs-performace_usage/cold-flow-basics—ppt.ppt?sfvrsn=6 

http://www.greencarcongress.com/2009/10/dibanaet-20091031.html

http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0961953411002224

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