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Biodiesel transesterification

Definition of Biodiesel transesterification

The transesterification reaction is base catalyzed. Any strong base capable of deprotonating the alcohol will do (e.g. NaOH, KOH, Sodium methoxide, etc.). Commonly the base (KOH, NaOH) is dissolved in the alcohol to make a convenient method of dispersing the otherwise solid catalyst into the oil. The ROH needs to be very dry.

Any water in the process promotes the saponification reaction, thereby producing salts of fatty acids (soaps) and consuming the base, and thus inhibits the transesterification reaction. Once the alcohol mixture is made, it is added to the triglyceride. The reaction that follows replaces the alkyl group on the triglyceride in a series of steps.

The carbon on the ester of the triglyceride has a slight positive charge, and the carbonyl oxygens have a slight negative charge. This polarization of the C=O bond is what attracts the RO- to the reaction site.