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Esterification of Free Fatty Acids in Crude Palm Oil with Sulfated Zirconia: Effect of Calcination Temperature

Authors: Kamchai Nuithitikul, Suthat Turapan, Cattareya Yotkamchornkun


The production of biodiesel from crude palm oil with a homogeneous base catalyst is unlikely owing to considerable formation of soap. Free fatty acids (FFA) in crude palm oil need to be reduced, e.g. by esterification. This study investigated the activity of sulfated zirconia calcined at various temperatures for esterification of FFA in crude palm oil to biodiesel. It was found that under a proper reaction condition, sulfated zirconia well catalyzes esterification. FFA content can be reduced to an acceptable value for typical biodiesel production with a homogeneous base catalyst. Crystallinity and sulfate attachment of sulfated zirconia depend on calcination temperature during the catalyst preparation. Too low temperature of calcination gives amorphous sulfated zirconia which has low activity for esterification of FFA. In contrast, very high temperature of calcination removes sulfate group, consequently, conversion of FFA is reduced. The appropriate temperature range of calcination is 550-650 oC.

Keywords: Biodiesel, esterification, Free fatty acids, Sulfatedzirconia

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