Journal of Sustainable Bioenergy Systems, 2013, 3, 209-216 Published Online September 2013 (
Economic Analysis of Biodiesel and Glycerol Carbonate
Production Plant by Glycerolysis
Nghi Nguyen*, Yaşar Demirel
Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, University of Nebraska Lincoln, Lincoln, USA
Email: *
Received June 12, 2013; revised July 12, 2013; accepted July 30, 2013
Copyright © 2013 Nghi Nguyen, Yaşar Demirel. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution
License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
Techno-economic analysis of an indirect use of carbon dioxide within the route of glycerolysis of glycerol with urea is
investigated. The results show that the net present value of the biodiesel-glycerol carbonate production by glycerolysis
is higher than the biodiesel-glycerol carbonate production by direct carboxylationat at the end of the 12-year operation
with similar capacities. The stochastic model has predicted that using glycerolysis route for the synthesis of glycerol
carbonate production might increase the probability of getting positive net present value by about 15%.
Keywords: Biodiesel; Direct Carboxylation; Glycerolysis; Glycerol Carbonate; Economic Analysis
1. Introduction
Biodiesel is renewable, nontoxic, biodegradable, and
essentially free of sulfur and aromatics, hence it may be
one of the most suitable candidates for future biofuel.
Besides, US Department of Energy life cycle analysis on
biodiesel shows that it produces 78.5% less net carbon
dioxide emissions compared to petroleum diesel [1]. In
2011, the United States produced approximately 1.1 bil-
lion gallons of biodiesel and the production is expected
to increase to 1.9 billion gallons in 2015 [2]. The major
drawbacks of biodiesel production using vegetable oil are
the high costs of manufacturing and the feedstock oil,
which competes with food. Currently, biodiesel produc-
tion plants depend on government subsidies in order to
keep their plants in operation [2]. Thus, seeking for a
more economic biodiesel production process to reduce
the dependency of government subsidies and promote
expansion of biodiesel industry is desirable.
Recently, a conventional biodiesel production plant
was retrofitted using thermodynamic analysis, which em-
ploys process heat integration, column grand composite
curves, and exergy loss profiles to assess the existing
operation and suggest modifications [3]. The retrofit de-
sign operates with less thermodynamic imperfections,
hence it requires less energy. With a suitable reaction
rate, a type of catalyst, relative volatilities of the compo-
nents, and the reaction and separation temperature range,
reaction and separation can be combined into a reac-
tive distillation (RD) [4-6]. RD reduces operational and
equipment costs by decreasing waste energy and over-
coming thermodynamic and chemical equilibrium limita-
tions. Further reduction of energy and equipment cost of
the biodiesel production plant is possible by using ther-
mally coupled distillation column sequences as they al-
low interconnecting vapor and liquid flows between the
two columns to eliminate the reboiler or condenser or
both [7].
About 1 kg of glycerol is formed for every 10 kg of
biodiesel produced [8]. The production cost of biodiesel
increases by $0.021/liter for every $0.22/kg reduction in
glycerol selling price [9,10]. As a result, economical
utilization schemes of bioglycerol can lead to a more
economical biodiesel production plant. A recent study
suggests that addition of glycerol carbonate production
by direct carboxylation route may be more economical
than the conventional biodiesel production plant [11].
However, recently, Li and Wang (2011) [12] have sug-
gested that direct carboxylation of glycerol and CO2 is
thermodynamically limited and the yield is very low (less
than 35%) [13]. Low yield requires high energy for the
separation of products and the recovery of reactants lead-
ing to high cost of manufacturing. Thus, in this study
synthesis of glycerol carbonate by glycerolysis route is
developed and economics of the biodiesel-glycerol car-
bonate production by direct carboxylation and glyceroly-
sis plants are compared. Economic analyses based on
*Corresponding author.
opyright © 2013 SciRes. JSBS
deterministic and stochastic models are used to compare
the two plants to determine the most feasible process.
2. Direct Carboxylation Plant
The direct carboxylation plant contains two Sections.
Section 1 produces biodiesel and crude bioglycerol,
while Section 2 produces bioglycerol carbonate and wa-
ter. Overall, Section 1 consumes 738.89 kg/h of methanol
and 6419.51 kg/h of oil to produce 6482.25 kg/h of fatty
acid methyl ester (FAME) and 1652.97 kg/h of glycerol.
The glycerol carbonate production section (Section 2)
utilizes 273.74 kg/h of carbon dioxide, 266.78 kg/h of
methanol, and the glycerol as a byproduct of the Section
1 to produce 649.69 kg/h of glycerol carbonate and
209.51 kg/h of water. Process details are available in
reference [11].
3. Glycerolysis Plant
3.1. Glycerolysis Reaction
Glycerolysis with urea (using urea as CO2 donor) may be
described by the following reactions [14].
Over 89% of glycerol carbonate yield with 98.6% se-
lectivity can be achieved when the reaction proceeds at
140˚C, 3 kPa, with a glycerol to urea mass ratio of 3.07,
and 1% of La2O3-600 as a catalyst in 1 hour. La2O3-600
shows high stability, even after six consecutive runs and
GC yield is still over 84% with over 97% selectivity can
be obtained [14]. Ammonia (NH3) is released when urea
reacts with glycerol. Urea can be recovered by reacting
NH3 with CO2 under high pressure and temperature [15].
3.2. Process Flow Diagram
The glycerolysis plant contains two sections as shown in
Figure 1(a). Section 1 (Figure 1(b)) produces biodiesel
and crude bioglycerol, while Section 2 (Figure 1(c)) pro-
duces bioglycerol carbonate and water. Section 1 utilizes
methanol and triglyceride to produce FAME and crude
glycerol using calcined eggshell containing mostly CaO
as a catalyst. Utilization of catalyst derived from waste
materials reduces the overall cost of manufacturing as
well as beneficial to the environment [16]. Recycled and
fresh methanol and oil are mixed in mixer M101 and fed
into the reactor R101.When the reaction proceed at 65˚C
and 100 kPa, 98% conversion of triglyceride is achieved
in 3 hours, with the methanol to oil molar ratio of 9:1 and
3% of the catalyst [17]. The reactor effluent, stream S2,
containing mixture of catalyst, products, and unreacted
reactants, is sent to separator SEP101 to recover catalyst,
which will be discarded after 13 cycles(approximately 36
hours of operation) [17].
The outlet of separator SEP101, stream S3, enters de-
canter DEC101 to remove glycerol by phase separation.
The top layer, stream S4, of the decanter DEC101 is
heated to 104.3˚C by stream S6 in heater HX101 before
it is sent to stage 2 of the distillation column T101. Col-
umn T101 operates at 3 stages with a total condenser and
a kettle reboiler. The distillate, containing mostly metha-
nol, is recycled while the bottom, containing 6319.55
kg/h of FAME, becomes the primary product. The stream
properties of the biodiesel plant shown in Figure 1(b) are
summarized in Table 1, which is obtained by using the
Aspen plus V7.3 with the thermodynamic model of
UNIF-DMD. Overall, Section 1 of the glycerolysis plant
uses 741.18 kg/h of methanol and 6419.51 kg/h of oil to
produce 6319.55 kg/h of FAME and 1653.28 kg/h of
crude glycerol as summarized in Table 1.
In Section 2, stream BY-PROD is sent to flash drum
F201 to recover methanol. Using design specification
block, the flow rate of methanol in the distillate of flash
drum F201 is set to 30.40 kmol/h by varying the tem-
perature. Flash drum F201 operates at 102.44˚C and 20
kPa. The distillate, stream R5, is recycled to Section 1,
while the bottom, stream S1, mixes with the recycled
glycerol, stream R4, in Mixer M201. Stream S2, con-
taining mostly glycerol, is heated to reaction conditions
before entering reactor R201. Fresh urea, stream UREA,
is also sent to reactor R201. The reaction takes place at
140˚C and 3 kPa with the glycerol to urea mass ratio of
1.79, and using 1% of La2O3-600 as a catalyst in 1 hour.
Under these conditions, it was assumed that 85% yield
and 100% selectivity of glycerol carbonate are achieved
[14]. Separator SEP201 is used to recover the catalyst
lanthanum oxide from the reactor outlet. After six con-
secutive runs, lanthanum oxide is discarded as waste
The outlet of separator, stream S5, is cooled to 60˚C
before it is sent to flash drum F202 to separate NH3.
Flash drum F202 operates at 60˚C and 50 kPa. Stream
S12 is a secondary by-product containing mostly ammo-
nia and stored after it is cooled to 25˚C. Using additional
unit for urea production from NH3 and CO2 is not feasi-
ble because of the low production capacity. The bottom
product, stream S7, is heated to 140˚C in heater H202
andsent to stage 10 of distillation column T201 to mini-
mize exergy losses caused by the temperature gradient
[3,7,18,19]. Distillation column T201 operates with 16
equilibrium stages with a partial condenser and a kettle
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. JSBS
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. JSBS
S2 S3
M101 DEC101
S1 S3
Figure 1. (a) Hierarchy of the novel biodiesel production plant by glycerolysis route; (b) Process flow diagram of Section 1 for
biodiesel and bioglycerol production plant; (c) Process flow diagram of Section 2 for bioglycerol carbonate production plant.
reboiler. Two design specifications are used to control
the molar flow rates of methanol and glycerol in the dis-
tillate of the distillation column, T201. The first design
specification sets the molar flow rate of glycerol in
stream R3 to 1 kmol/h by varying the bottom flow rate.
The second design specification sets the flow rate of
methanol to 0.065 kmol/h in stream R3 by varying the
distillate vapor fraction. The distillate stream, R3, con-
taining mostly glycerol is recycled. The bottom stream
contains 97.59% of 830.79 kg/h of glycerol carbonate as
the secondary product as shown in Table 2.
4. Economic Analysis
4.1. Deterministic Model
The bare module costs of major equipment ,
C are
estimated using the CAPCOST 2008 program and the
chemical engineering plant cost index (CEPCI) of 580
Table 1. Streams properties of Section 1 of the novel biodiesel production plant by glycerolysis shown in Figure 1(b).
Mass Flow kg·h1
METHANOL 9.95E+02 3.76E+017.41E+02 0.00E+00 3.78E+02 9.74E+02 9.74E+02 2.09E+03 1.41E+03 4.15E+02 4.15E+02 3.76E+01 3.76E+01
OIL 1.68E06 1.28E+020.00E+00 6.42E+03 1.25E01 1.68E06 1.68E06 6.42E+031.28E+02 1.28E+02 1.28E+02 1.28E+02 1.28E+02
FAME 3.79E+00 6.32E+030.00E+00 0.00E+00 7.34E02 3.46E+003.46E+00 3.53E+00 6.32E+03 6.32E+03 6.32E+03 6.32E+03 6.32E+03
GLYCEROL 6.55E+02 2.54E+000.00E+00 0.00E+00 4.41E02 2.74E+002.74E+00 2.79E+00 6.57E+02 2.59E+00 2.59E+00 2.54E+00 2.54E+00
Mass Frac
METHANOL 0.6018 0.00581.0000 0.0000 0.9994 0.9937 0.9937 0.2457 0.1655 0.0605 0.0605 0.0058 0.0058
OIL 0.0000 0.01980.0000 1.0000 0.0003 0.0000 0.0000 0.75350.0151 0.0187 0.0187 0.0198 0.0198
FAME 0.0023 0.97400.0000 0.0000 0.0002 0.0035 0.0035 0.0004 0.7423 0.9204 0.9204 0.9740 0.9740
GLYCEROL 0.3959 0.00040.0000 0.0000 0.0001 0.0028 0.0028 0.0003 0.0771 0.0004 0.0004 0.0004 0.0004
Total Flow kg·h1 1653.28 6487.93741.18 6419.51 377.99980.52980.528519.20 8519.20 6865.92 6865.92 6487.93 6487.93
Temperature ˚C 65.00 25.00 25.00 25.00 64.31 100.0025.00 25.09 65.00 65.00 104.30 138.3775.00
Pressure kPa 100 100 100 100 100 20 100 100 100 100 100 100 100
for the year 2011 [20]. The Fixed Capital Investment
(FCI) of the direct carboxylation plant is $29,276,352,
while the FCI of the glycerolysis plant is $27,000,160 as
shown in Table 3. The cost estimation accuracies of the
preliminary designs range from +25% to 15% of the
actual costs. Land (L) and working capital (WC) are as-
sumed equal to 5% and 20% of FCI, respectively. Table
3 also shows the total cost of utilities. The costs of utili-
ties for low and medium pressure steam, cooling water,
and electricity [21] are updated using the 2011 CEPCI of
580. Number of employee (NOL) is estimated using equa-
tion from reference [22]. All the costs can be updated by
using the current value of CEPCI in Cost(new) =
The total cost of labor summarized in Table 3 is cal-
culated based on 8400 h/year of the plant operation. The
cost of waste disposal is $0.37/kg [21]. The price of oil
and methanol are $0.79/Liter and $0.20/Liter, respect-
tively. The current selling price of products is presented
in Table 3. With the inclusion of tax incentive and re-
newable index number, biodiesel producers can get up to
$0.74/Liter in addition to the market price of biodiesel
[23], making the selling price of biodiesel approximately
equal to $1.19/Liter. Salvage (S) value is 5% of FCI [22].
The useful life of the plants, taxation rate (t), years of
depreciation and interest rate are also presented in Table
3. In the deterministic model, based on the most likely
economic data considered in Table 3, discounted cash
flows (DCF) and cumulative discounted cash flows
(CDCFs) are estimated. The plot of DCFs versus years of
operation yields the feasibility criteria of net present
value (NPV), payback period (PBP), and rate of return
(ROR). For a feasible operation, at least two criteria must
satisfy the conditions: NPV 0; ROR >i (interest rate),
and PBP n (plant operation time).
4.2. Stochastic Model
In reality, parameters used to evaluate profitability are
subject to change throughout the life of the chemical
plant. Stochastic model incorporates Monte-Carlo simu-
lation into economic analysis to quantify the uncertainty
on the values of NPV, PBP, and ROR [22]. Trapezoidal,
normal, and lognormal density cumulative probability
density function are often used to describe uncertainty in
data. However, triangular cumulative probability func-
tion (P(x)) can be used to reduce calculation complexity
 
Pxx b
 (1)
 
baxb cxb
Pxx b
ca cacb
 (2)
where a is the estimate of the lowest value, b is the most
likely value and c is the estimate of the highest value.
The uncertainties on the fixed capital investment, price of
product, working capital, income tax rate, interest rate,
raw material, and salvage values are considered for sto-
chastic model economic comparison. The assumed un-
certainties of those parameters from the base value are
listed in Table 4.
5. Results and Discussions
he market value of crude bioglycerol is low due to its
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. JSBS
Table 2. Streams properties of Section 2 of the novel biodiesel production plant by glycerolysis shown in Figure 1(c).
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. JSBS
Table 3. Major cost factors of the biodiesel with glycerol
carbonate production plants.
Carbonxylation Glycerolysis
Fixed capital investment (FCI), $ 29,276,352.00 27,000,160.00
Land (L), $ (5% of FCI) 1,463,817.60 1,350,008.00
Working capital (WC),
$ (20% of FCI) 5,855,270.40 5,400,032.00
Labor, $ h-1 30 30
Operating labor 16 16
Cost of labor (COL), $ 4,032,000.00 4,032,000.00
Cost of Electricity, $ kW-1·h1 0.0666 0.0666
Cost of cooling water, $ tonne1 0.0202 0.0202
Cost of 1 bar steam, $ tonne1 2.4 2.4
Cost of 22 bar steam, $ tonne-1 - 14.7
Cost of 35 bar steam, $ tonne1 16.6 -
Cost of 190 bar steam, $ tonne1 - 23.3
Cost of utilities (CUT), $ 982,856.23 347,810.85
Waste treatment, $ kg1 0.37 0.37
Waste treatment (S), $ 987,610.17 124,596.33
Cost of methanol, $ L1 0.20 0.20
Cost of oil, $ L1 0.79 0.79
Cost of CO2, $ kg1 0.045 0.045
Cost of Urea, $ kg1 - 0.27
Cost of CaO, $ kg1 0.10 0.10
Cost of n-Bu2SnO, $ kg1 17.15 -
Cost of La2O3, $ kg1 - 12.00
Total cost of raw materials, $ 48,752,136.47 49,590,018.45
Cost of manufacturing (COM), $ 78,665,904.89 77,444,172.33
Price of FAME, $ L1 1.19 1.19
Price of GC, $ kg1 2.4 2.4
Price of NH3, $ kg1 - 0.12
Revenue (R), $ yr1 88,881,165.58 92,393,726.54
Salvage value (S), $ 1,463,817.60 1,350,008.00
Taxation rate (t), % 35 35
Years of operation (n) 12 12
Years of depreciation** (k) 5 5
Operational time, h yr1 8400 8400
Interest rate (i), % 5 5
L: Liter; **Depreciation method: Modified Accelerated Cost Recovery Sys-
tem (MACRS).
excess production as a by-product of the biodiesel pro-
duction. Purification of glycerol in a small to medium
scale biodiesel production plant is not feasible due to
high investment in separation units and low ROR.
Figure 2 shows the discounted cash flow diagrams
generated using the deterministic model based on the 5
year Modified Accelerated Cost Recovery System
(MACRS) depreciation method. Table 5 presents the
discounted profitability criteria of the two plants. Any
two criteria should be favorable for the project to be fea-
sible. The net present value of the glycerolysis plant is
about $27.83million higher than the direct carboxylation
plant at the end of 12-year project. The discounted pay-
back period of the direct carboxylation and glycerolysis
plants is 3.7 and 2.4 years, respectively, as shown in Ta-
ble 5.
Table 4. Uncertainties on some key economic parameters.
Lower Limit (a) Upper Limit (c)
Fixed capital investment 20% 30%
Price of product 10% 10%
Working capital 30% 10%
Income tax rate 20% 20%
Interest rate 10% 20%
Raw material price 10% 15%
Salvage value 30% 20%
Table 5. Discounted profitability criteria.
Carboxylation Glycerolysis
Net Present Value
(millions) (NPV 0) 34.05 61.88
Discounted Cash Flow
Rate of Return (ROR > i) 19.91% 32.08%
Discounted Payback
Period (years) (DPBP n) 3.7 2.4
CDCF ($ 10
Ye ar
Direct Carboxylation
Figure 2. Comparison of the cumulative discounted cash
flow (CDCF) diagrams of the direct carboxylation and
glycerolysis routes.
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. JSBS
Table 4 presents the uncertainties on some of the key
parameters over the plant life. Figure 3 presents the cu-
mulative probability distributions obtained 1000-point
Monte Carlo simulations for the values of NPV, dis-
counted cash flow rate of return (DCFROR) and dis-
counted payback period (DPBP) obtained using CAP-
COST 2008 software based on the uncertainties of pa-
rameters shown in Table 4 [20]. Figure 3(a) shows that
-60-30030 60 90120
Cumulative Probability
Net Present Values ($ 10
Direct Carboxylation
0.0 0.1 0.2 0.3 0.4 0.5 0.6 0.7
Cumulative Probability
Direct Carboxylation
Cumulative Probability
DPBP (years)
Direct Carboxylation
Figure 3. 1000-point Monte Carlo simulation on; (a) Net
present values (NPV); (b) Discounted cash flow rate of re-
turn (DCFROR); (c) Discounted payback period (DPBP).
there is about 17% chance that the direct carboxylation
plant will not be profitable, while there is approximately
2% chance that the glycerolysis plant will not be profit-
able. The glycerolysis plant is about 15% more likely to
be profitable compared to the direct carboxylation plant.
If the median probability of 50% is considered, the glyc-
erolysis plant yields a higher value of NPV of $28million.
The lowest values of NPV for the direct carboxylation
and glycerolysis plants are $63.8 and $29.5 million,
respectively, while the highest possible values of NPV
for the direct carboxylationand glycerolysis plants are
$151.5 and $128.2 million, respectively.
6. Conclusion
Production of glycerol carbonate using direct carboxyla-
tion route suffers from low yield and costly separation
units. In contrast, the glycerolysis route using CO2 indi-
rectly and urea as a CO2 donor may simplify the glycerol
carbonate production, and hence it leads to a more eco-
nomical biodiesel-glycerol carbonate production process.
Deterministic model predictions show that the net present
value of the glycerolysis plant is higher than that of the
direct carboxylation plant at the end of 12-year operation.
Stochastic model for the economic analysis predicts that
the glycerolysis route for glycerol carbonate production
increases the probability of getting positive net present
value by about 15%.
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