Petro/Biofuels

E-Separation Solutions

E-Separation Solutions-05-20-2010, Volume 0, Issue 0

Participants in this Technology Forum are Daniela Cavagnino of Thermo Fisher Scientific; Linda Lopez of Dionex Corp.; and Drs. Amrit Boparai, Anil Oroskar, and Asha Oroskar of Orochem.

The analysis of fuels, including petroleum fuels such as gasoline and diesel and biofuels such as ethanol and biodiesel, has become increasingly important as consumers turn to alternative fuel sources. Participants in this Technology Forum are Daniela Cavagnino of Thermo Fisher Scientific; Linda Lopez of Dionex Corp.; and Drs. Amrit Boparai, Anil Oroskar, and Asha Oroskar of Orochem.

What special challenges do biofuels such as bioethanol and biodiesel pose for analytical chemists (and instrument manufacturers)?

Cavagnino: Analytical guidelines for biofuels quality assessment are strictly defined by official standards and regulations, aiming mainly to global trading in this marketplace. Huge efforts have been made over the last years by political and standardization agencies to start a global process of methods harmonization which is still ongoing. However, especially for biodiesel, the different local requirements and the large variety of possible feedstock (different vegetable oils, animal fat, recycled cooked oils) make this harmonization a difficult task. So chemists must often work with methods not always suitable or accurate for specific samples, as it happens, for example the analysis of total glycerol in biodiesel obtained from castor oil, which needs a different dedicated approach. Standards for biodiesel blends characterization are also missing or limited. Another fundamental analytical challenge is the assessment of the environmental impact of biofuels production on the global greenhouse gas emissions, with a clear request from the market of suitable and dedicated analyzers. Therefore, the main commitment of instrument manufacturers is, on the other side, to offer new analytical solutions, introducing always new technology capable to overcome analytical challenges and assure the utmost robustness and reliability. Besides, the capability of instrument manufacturer to offer a full portfolio of analytical instrumentation for a global characterization of biofuels according to emerging new regulation is as well required.

Lopez:Biofuels pose unique challenges both in characterizing the source material as well as the final product. The complexity of the biologically derived sample matrix requires additional test methods in comparison to petroleum fuels both before and after production. The addition of the glycerol specification, for example, adds to the number of tests that need to be completed before the fuel can claim to meet applicable standards. Sensitive analyte detection in such samples can be difficult with commonly used detectors such as UV–vis. In addition, impurities that must be quantified can be chemically quite similar to the final fuel product, making chromatographic analysis challenging. Chromatographic columns with unique selectivities to improve analytical separations and detectors that do not rely on chromophores are critical to biofuels analysis.

Boropai, Oraskar, and Oraskar:Regulations generally lag any new technology and/or products of commerce, and such is the case with biofuels and bioethanol. One of the problems that an analytical chemist and, therefore, the instrument manufacturer faces, is to have to change methodologies to meet the current requirements. Additionally, since biodiesel is being promoted as a product that can be produced in small facilities, there is a need to develop inexpensive yet accurate measurement instruments and procedures. Generally, one cannot get a low-cost instrument with highly sophisticated measuring capabilities. Therefore, the analytical chemist has to rely on existing lower cost instruments. To be truly innovative, R&D must be performed to get methodologies and instruments to meet analysis needs.

How have chromatography instrumentation manufacturers been affected by new gas and oil regulations?

Cavagnino:The main effort required of instrumentation manufacturers from this highly regulated market is to provide not only the instrument itself but a complete turn-key solution, specifically developed and analytically tuned to comply the specific method of reference. Besides, new regulations are driving improvements on almost all aspects of a chromatographic system, from the development of more selective and more stable stationary phases to more sophisticated injection techniques, to multidimensional approach, to new hyphenated solutions.

Lopez:Tightening regulations for quality assurance in the oil and gas industry present a significant challenge to instrument manufacturers. Lower limits of detection for contaminants such as total sulfur and halides open new market opportunities for analytical solutions capable of meeting the lower limits.

Boropai, Oraskar, and Oraskar:Again, the uncertainty in regulations requires changing measurement procedures and protocols. As an example of changing regulations, EPA is expected to revise emission monitoring and calibration protocols by November 2011 (see idc-insights-community.com.).

Has the economic situation shifted the demand for instrumentation for fuels analysis (for example, for biofuels vs. gas and oil)?

Cavagnino:The GC market for biofuels analysis was expected to grow faster than observed. A steady situation around biofuels is probably due to their production cost, which is still much higher compared to the price of producing fossil fuels, and their production processes are not yet optimized for a sustainable consumption. The competition of biofuels over food crops and the erosion of forest lands are generating big concerns for both economical and environmental impact. In this respect, the second-generation biofuels, mainly obtained from waste biomass by using enzymes, could be more promising; however, it may take years before the conversion technology becomes economically competitive and the production can be realized on a commercial-scale and before an impact on analytical instrumentation demand is noted.

Lopez:With economic stimulus money driving basic research into the development of alternative fuels and global demand for biofuels increases, new manufacturing facilities are being built at a significant rate. This creates demand for chromatographic instrumentation for profiling of feedstocks and to ensure end product quality.

Boropai, Oraskar, and Oraskar:As smaller players enter the biodiesel market, their budgets necessitate cheaper and fewer instruments. Since the economic outlook for biodiesel is still not profitable, bigger companies are still not committed to biodiesel production. Therefore, there has not been a change in demand for instruments for biodiesel.

What future challenges will chemists face in fuels analysis?

Cavagnino:Regarding biodiesel, it can be expected that a huge variety of new feedstock from developing countries will be used in the future, adding complexity to the final analytical characterization of both B100 and blends Bxx, due to the different chemical composition. Besides, acceptable performance parameters according to the standard can be often matched by properly mixing different types of biodiesels, making it difficult or impossible to establish the origin. In general, the development of new biofuels technology will ask for new advanced analytical techniques and this is probably the biggest challenge for chemists.

Lopez:As biofuels become more prevalent in the international consumer market, fuel standards are likely to change as they are harmonized. This has already begun with biodiesel standards. As the allowable impurities are reduced, chemists will need analytical methods with the sensitivity required to easily ensure fuel quality.

Boropai, Oraskar, and Oraskar:As usual, the chemist will be asked to lower detection limits, minimize secondary waste generation, and perform these tasks with lower-cost instruments. The chemist will have to be innovative to develop protocols and strategies to meet these needs.

If you are interested in participating in any upcoming Technology Forums please contact Group Technical Editor Steve Brown or Associate Editor Meg Evans for more information. Next month’s forums will focus on the HPLC/Chiral and Pharmaceutical Analysis markets.