Designed Catalyst Systems for the Efficient Conversion of Soybean Oil to Value-Added Oxidation Products

Grant# 02s-02
Principal Investigator: Brent Shanks
Organization: Iowa State University
Technical Area: Renewable Energy

Background and Significance
Oxidative cleavage of soybean oil derived fatty acids hold the potential to produce valuable chemicals for use in polymer production. Of particular interest are the oxidation products azelaic and suberic acid that could be used to replace fossil fuel-derived adipic acid, a large volume chemical used in the production of nylon. The goal of the proposed work is to demonstrate an improved conversion process for converting soybean oil to these valuable oxidation products. Methyl esters used as the reaction substrate rather than fatty acids will be explored to examine the potential of a chemical intermediate/biodiesel biorefinery from soybean oil.

Project Objectives
Fatty acids derived from soybean oil have excellent potential for conversion to large volume chemical intermediates that can be used in the production of polymers. Converting the fatty acids to useful chemical intermediates for polymers requires the oxidative cleavage of the unsaturated fatty acids. The most important chemicals produced from this cleavage are dibasic acids, with the specific acids azelaic acid and suberic acid resulting from the cleavage of oleic acid and linoleic acid. The ability to achieve this conversion has been demonstrated, however, the process is expensive and impractical at a significant commercial size due to the required use of ozone as the oxidant.

The primary goal of the proposed project is to demonstrate an improved process for converting soybean oil to value-added oxidation products, which have application as chemical intermediates in the polymer industry. We will exploit recent advancements in the synthesis of nanostructured inorganic materials to design highly efficient solid catalysts for the conversion of fatty acids to dibasic acids. Importantly, we will also examine the potential to obtain the oxidation products using cleavage of methyl esters, which would be a significant improvement over the use of fatty acids.

Our project objectives are:

1. Develop a solid catalyst that can convert unsaturated fatty acids such as oleic acid to high value chemical intermediates for the polymer industry.

2. Demonstrate that methyl esters (such as produced in biodiesel) can be successfully converted to these same products with our designed catalyst system.