The biodiesel production from vegetable oils or animal fats produces a large percentage (as much as 10%) of glycerine as a by-product.
With a view to making the best use of this ever increasing by-product, the University Rey Juan Carlos has undertaken the research project entitled “Transformation of glycerine in biodiesel” which focuses on its recyclability. It is estimated that in the next few years there will be a surplus of cheap glycerin in Europe since a parliamentary directive stated in 2003 states that by the year 2010, 5,75% of the petrol and diesel sold for transport must be a biofuel.
Currently glycerin has a relatively high price to be used as an energy source, but the exponential growth of its production will eventually exceed its current demand for traditional uses, which is mainly in the synthesis of pharmaceutical products. According to the data from the European Biodiesel Board, over three millions tons of biodiesel were produced in 2005, which represents a growth of 64,7% with respect to 2004. In 2006 there was a production of five million tons, a 54% rise from the previous year. And it is believed that it will continue on this trend, with a yearly production of 10 million tons of biodiesel expected by 2010 and therefore around a million tons of glycerin. This underscores the importance of finding new applications for this by-product.
One of the more recent alternatives, and the one under investigation by the research group directed by Juan Antonio Melero, consist in the transformation of glycerin into products that could partially replace diesel in a cost-competitive manner, with the added advantage that the compounds produced (glycerin ethers) added to diesel in certain proportions, improve the low temperature response, reducing its viscosity and contaminant emissions of the diesel.