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Biodiesel production is the process of producing the biofuel, biodiesel, through the chemical reactions transesterification and esterification. This involves vegetable or animal fats and oils being reacted with short-chain alcohols (typically methanol or ethanol).
In the ultrasonic reactor method, the ultrasonic waves cause the reaction mixture to produce and collapse bubbles constantly. This cavitation provides simultaneously the mixing and heating required to carry out the transesterification process. Thus using an ultrasonic reactor for biodiesel production drastically reduces the reaction time, reaction temperatures, and energy input. Hence the process of transesterification can run inline rather than using the time consuming batch processing. Industrial scale ultrasonic devices allow for the industrial scale processing of several thousand barrels per day.
Ultrasound is a useful tool to mix liquids that tend to separate. In biodiesel production, adequate mixing is required to create sufficient contact between the vegetable oil/animal fat and alcohol, especially at the beginning of the reaction. Ultrasonic waves cause intense mixing so that the reaction can proceed at a much faster rate.
Ultrasound transfers energy into fluid and creates violent vibrations, which form cavitation bubbles. As the bubbles burst, a sudden contraction of the fluid occurs, and the ingredients are mixed in the area of the bubbles. Such a high-energy action in liquid can considerably increase the reactivity of the reactant mixture and shorten the reaction time without involving elevated temperatures. In fact, this reaction can be achieved at or slightly above ambient temperature. Because there is no need to heat the mixture, energy may be saved.