Faculty Advisor

Robert W. Thompson


Sustainable energy management has become a high priority for many countries. A great majority of our energy stocks comes from non-renewable fossil fuels, which are currently dwindling. Biofuels are one of the most promising solutions being researched to address this urgent problem. In particular, using transesterified Jatropha curcas L. oil appears to be a promising method of producing biofuels due to several properties of the plant, such as the high oil yield of its seeds and the fact that it does not compete with food crops. The literature mentions many attempts of using zeolites as solid acid catalysts in transesterification reactions of vegetable oils with high free fatty acid (FFA) content. The acid catalysis prevents soap formation and emulsification, which can be observed in the basic process. The use of a solid catalyst makes the separation and purification of the final products steps easier to implement in comparison to catalysis in homogeneous conditions. However, the efficiency of the zeolite in the heterogeneous transesterification reaction of vegetable oil is not well-known yet and varies on the structure of the catalyst used. This project aims at better understanding the relationship between the type of zeolite used and the yield of this particular reaction using reconstituted Jatropha oil from Sesame seed oil, which has a similar composition. Five different types of zeolites were compared: Y, X, Beta, Mordenite & ZSM-5. Non-catalyzed reactions as well as homogeneously catalyzed - with H2SO4 - reactions were also implemented. Since we take advantage of the catalytic properties of different zeolites, the one that were not already in hydrogen form were ion-exchanged and the ion-exchanged species were then analyzed by Energy-Dispersive X-Ray spectroscopy (EDX). Three alcohol-to-oil ratios were tested at atmospheric pressure and at T=115°C for each catalyst in order to determine the influence of this ratio. All experiments were conducted in an airtight autoclave with butan-1-ol in order to obtain a biofuel whose cetane index is higher than regular petroleum-based diesels.


Worcester Polytechnic Institute

Degree Name



Chemical Engineering

Project Type


Date Accepted





heterogeneous catalysis, Jatropha, transesterification, biodiesel, bio-diesel, zeolite, solid catalyst