Esterification of fatty acids using acid-activated Brazilian smectite natural clay as a catalyst

Highlights

The acid treatment of a Brazilian natural clay gave excellent catalytic properties.

The activated clay provided good conversion in the esterification of fatty acids.

The catalyst showed promise for biodiesel production by esterification process.

The reactions were carried out at atmospheric pressure and without a co-solvent.

The catalyst was reused five times without significant reduction in conversion.

Abstract

This work reports the use of an acid-activated Brazilian smectite natural clay-based catalyst in the esterification of fatty acids at atmospheric pressure and without a co-solvent. Conversion levels of 99%, 98%, 93% and 80% were reached for caprylic, lauric, stearic and oleic methyl esters, respectively, using 1:3 fatty acid/methanol molar ratio, heating bath at 100 °C after 4 h. A conversion level of 89% was achieved for methyl esters from a fatty acid residue of the palm oil refining industry in the same reaction condition. The acid-activated clay provided better performance than the commercial catalyst K-10. The effects of catalyst amount, temperature, fatty acid/alcohol molar ratio and time were investigated. The heating activation of the catalyst immediately before the catalytic test increased the conversion from 94% to 99% using 1:1.5 stearic acid/methanol molar ratio, heating bath at 100 °C after 4 h. The catalyst was reused five times. The conversion decreases less than 5% in the first three reuses. The smectite natural clay and the catalyst were characterized by X-ray fluorescence, X-ray diffraction, n-butylamine thermodesorption, nitrogen adsorption analysis, thermogravimetric analysis and differential thermal analysis.

Keywords

  • Biodiesel;
  • Clay;
  • Fatty acid esterification

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