Project Synopsis

Provide a process engineering evaluation of a mothballed biodiesel facility including test run assistance and an assessment of process alternatives for improving the operation.

Project Summary


The client is an international process engineering company subcontracted Process Engineering Associates, LLC (PROCESS) to help the ultimate client bring a mothballed plant back on-line.  The ultimate client owns a mothballed biodiesel plant, a collocated operating fuel distribution terminal, and a tank farm in Peru.  The ultimate client wished to restart the biodiesel plant and contracted with the client to provide an engineering evaluation of the process and operations, and to propose improvements to increase the plant’s operational flexibility.  The project consists of three phases, the first of which is an evaluation of the existing biodiesel process.

PROCESS, as a subcontractor, was asked to accomplish the following:

  • Perform a preliminary overall process review and site inspection
  • Evaluate how well the existing systems may function once the plant is restarted for a test run
  • Evaluate how the existing systems may function in continuous production
  • Identify areas for improvement.

The existing biodiesel process is a continuous base catalyzed transesterification process with two reaction stages, and a liquid-liquid separation stage following each reactor.  The final methyl ester (ME) purification is accomplished by means of a unique resin bed followed by a final flash to remove residual water.  There are three identical process trains, but only one train had previously been operational.  The plant does not have a pretreatment process and is therefore limited to processing only refined oils.  There is also no methanol recovery process or glycerin purification process, both of which are common in large commercial biodiesel plants worldwide.

When PROCESS started the job, the plant was idle, and had previously run only in batch mode.  There were no detailed Piping and Instrumentation Diagrams (P&IDs), no comprehensive mass and energy balance, and only a limited amount of process data.

PROCESS reviewed all of the major unit operations, utilities, laboratory, and tank farm; and identified those process features or facilities that were unique, well designed, and/or potentially problematic. Recommendations were made for piping modifications, installation of additional equipment, evaluation and optimization of select unit operations, updating basic plant documentation, and performance of safety reviews where necessary.

Industry Type

  • Alternatives Fuels Manufacturing

Utilized Skills

  • Process evaluation
  • Process improvement

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