Background & Objectives

Project Justification

Crude glycerine is derived from various conversions of natural fat and oils to fatty acids, fatty alcohols and soap. It is also generated as major by-product of the biodiesel production. Produced industrially from the beginning of the 20th century, also from petrochemical feedstocks, glycerine has a well-developed market with a very wide range of applications. These include uses in personal and oral care products, foods and beverages, pharmaceuticals and industrial uses such as plastics, paints and coatings.

Crude biodiesel glycerine is impure and has little value. The market, even for pure glycerine, is limited and is not able to absorb the increasing amount being produced from biodiesel. Since 2004 the amount of glycerine produced exceeds the actual consumption, and the mismatch is increasing further.

As a result of increasing biodiesel production, and a lack of viable market outlets, the price of crude glycerine plummeted in the ten years from the mid-nineties. In 2006 crude glycerine prices stood at less than 100 €/t (5.8 €/GJ), which is only slightly higher than its energy value.

With this price level it is too costly for small- and medium-scale biodiesel producers to refine their own crude glycerine. These producers are therefore desperately seeking new glycerine applications. By lack of these, much of the product is incinerated or used for low-value applications.

The SUPERMETHANOL project seeks to identify a viable alternative application by investigating whether (crude) glycerine can be reformed in supercritical water for syngas production and conversion into methanol, so that it can be re-used in biodiesel plants.