Date of Award

January 2017

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)


Chemical Engineering

First Advisor

Wayne S. Seames


Recent years have seen an increased demand for renewable transportation fuels. First generation biofuels were the first response to this increased demand, but they are physically and chemically different from their petroleum counterparts. These major differences have motivated the development of processes that are capable of producing drop-in compatible biofuels. These drop-in fuels are engine ready, and have essentially the same properties as their petroleum equivalents. The development of second generation fuels include cellulose-derived fuels, lignin-derived fuels, direct photosynthetic derivatives, lipid-derived fuels, and feedstock-flexible bioconversion processes. The focus of this thesis is lipid-derived drop-in ready fuels.

One of the new technologies for producing drop-in compatible renewable fuels and associated chemicals is based on the non-catalytic cracking of fatty acid based oils, such as animal fats and waste cooking oils, as well as triglyceride based (TAG) oils such as crop oils, bacteriological oils, and algae lipids. Research through the University of North Dakota has been conducted on the each of the various unit operations needed to design a comprehensive facility capable of producing drop-in compatible renewable fuels and various by-product chemical products in a variety of configurations using this technology.

This research included determination of the optimized yields of organic liquid products (OLP) produced from the conversion of the inlet oil. This OLP can then be further processed and separated into transportation fuels such as jet fuel and diesel fuel as well as fuel intermediates like naphtha and butane plus other by-products. A model that accurately represents the reactions completed by the noncatalytic cracking of the TAG oils was developed through substantial testing in continuous, scalable reactors. However, the various pieces of technology had not been assembled into an integrated biorefinery concept.

A preliminary design, cost estimate, and economic analysis on three biorefinery alternatives was performed based on the previously gathered data to determine the profitability of implementing a plant that processes renewable transportation fuels through noncatalytic cracking of TAG oil. These three alternatives include a base design, fatty acid recovery design, and a heavy end processing design. Following the preliminary design and economic assessment, an economic hazards analysis was then performed to evaluate the hazards to each investment.

Both the fatty acid recovery biorefinery and heavy end processing biorefinery alternative were found to be economically feasible. In addition, both alternatives have the potential to remain economically feasible while taking into account raw material and product price fluctuations. While a fully configured biorefinery combining these two alternatives leads to an even higher profitability (NPV@ 12% of $2.5 billion Ñ 40%). Also, the integration of any of the biorefinery alternatives with a previously developed soybean oil processing plant showed that starting from oil seeds results in economically feasible alternatives with and without additional byproduct production due to gains in oil recovery facilities compared to food grade oil.

This work demonstrates the technical and commercial feasibility of these technologies and provides a roadmap towards commercial scale development.