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The Shell Center for Sustainability's mission is to foster an interdisciplinary program of research, outreach, and education to address actions that can be taken to ensure the sustainable development of communities' living standards, interpreted broadly, to encompass all factors affecting the overall quality of life.


Identifying The Most Affordable and Sustainable


Daniel Cohan, Ph.D., Department of Civil & environmental Engineering, Rice University
Kyriacos Zygourakis, Ph.D., Department of Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering, Rice University
Ramon Gonzalez, Ph.D., Department of Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering, Rice University

 Daniel Cohan 
Dr. Daniel Cohan
 Kyriakos Zygourakis 
Dr. Kyriacos Zygourakis
 Ramon Gonzalez
Dr. Ramon Gonzalez
Project Background

Biodiesel in diesel engines can reduce air pollution, greenhouse gas emissions and reliance on imported fossil fuels. Biodiesel production has soared 500-fold over the last seven years. Production is now 250 million gallons nationwide, and Texas is one of the leading producer of biodiesel. Despite this rapid growth, biodiesel is destined to remain a niche player in overall diesel markets. Devoting the nation’s entire soybean crop to biodiesel production would displace 6% of total diesel fuel use. Other biodiesel feedstocks are also limited in availability.

Our multidisciplinary team will investigate were and how biodiesel should be produced and deployed to optimize the environmental and economic sustainability of this fuel source. Because both the production and deployment of biodiesel can proceed in many different ways, there may be opportunities to minimize costs while maximizing efficiency and net benefits to air quality.

On the production side, producers must select among various plant and animal-based feedstocks and various options for the disposal or reuse of production byproducts.

Deployment options for biodiesel are complex. Biodiesel could be used in a vast range of diesel engines. It can be blended or used in pure form.

Our proposed research will achieve the following objectives.

1. Biodiesel production. We will analyze the production of biodiesel from small- and large-scale facilities that use different feedstocks and convert glycerol to other useful chemicals.

2. Biodiesel distribution and deployment. We will compile data regarding (a) current and projected diesel fuel use and emissions in Texas, and (b) the biodiesel blends that can be used in each engine type. We will develop models that estimate the cost of distributing biodiesel produced at large- or small-scale facilities.

3. Air quality. Published studies on biodiesel emission rates will be reviewed to determine best estimate ranges. We will use a photochemical model to simulate how alternative deployments of biodiesel would affect ozone, PM, and other pollutants in Texas.

This research will allow us to answer a key question: Which production methods and applications of biodiesel will reduce air pollution and minimize costs? Such information will allow decision makers to prioritize the applications of biodiesel to determine which are most affordable and environmentally sustainable.

Research Report

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