Time-resolved in-situ X-ray diffraction study of CaO and CaO:Ca3Al2O6 composite catalysts for biodiesel production

A. Damiano Bonaccorso, Despoina Papargyriou, Aida Fuente Cuesta, Oxana V. Magdysyuk, Stefan Michalik, Thomas Connolley, Julia L. Payne, John T. S. Irvine

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Alternative and sustainable waste sources are receiving increasing attention as they can be used to produce biofuels with a low carbon footprint. Waste fish oil is one such example and can be considered an abundant and sustainable waste source to produce biodiesel. Ultimately this could lead to fishing communities having their own "off-grid" source of fuel for boats and vehicles. At the industrial level biodiesel is currently produced by homogeneous catalysis because of the high catalyst activity and selectivity. In contrast, heterogeneous catalysis offers several advantages such as improved reusability, reduced waste and lower processing costs. Here we investigate the phase evolution of two heterogeneous catalysts, CaO and a Ca3Al2O6:CaO ('C3A:CaO') composite, under in-situ conditions for biodiesel production from fish oil. A new reactor was designed to monitor the evolution of the crystalline catalyst during the reaction using synchrotron powder X-ray diffraction (PXRD). The amount of calcium diglyceroxide (CaDG) began to increase rapidly after approximately 30 minutes, for both catalysts. This rapid increase in CaDG could be linked to ex-situ NMR studies which showed that the conversion of fish oil to biodiesel rapidly increased after 30 minutes. The key to the difference in activity of the two catalysts appears to be that the Ca3Al2O6:CaO composite maintains a high rate of calcium diglyceroxide formation for longer than CaO, although the initial formation rates and reaction kinetics are similar. Overall this specialised in-situ set-up has been shown to be suitable to monitor the phase evolution of heterogeneous crystalline catalysts during the triglycerides transesterification reaction, offering the opportunity to correlate the crystalline phases to activity, deactivation and stability.
Original languageEnglish
Article number034014
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Physics: Energy
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 28 Jun 2021


  • In-situ
  • Operando
  • Biodiesel
  • Heterogeneous catalysis
  • Waste to energy


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