Amphiphilic Phase-transforming Catalysts for Transesterification of Triglycerides



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Heterogeneous catalytic reactions that involve immiscible liquid-phase reactants are challenging to conduct due to limitations associated with mass transport. Nevertheless, there are numerous reactions such as esterification, transesterification, etherification, and hydrolysis where two immiscible liquid reactants (such as polar and non-polar liquids) need to be brought into contact with a catalyst. With the intention of alleviating mass transport issues associated with such systems but affording the ability to separate the catalyst once the reaction is complete, the overall goal of this study is geared toward developing a catalyst that has emulsification properties as well as the ability to phase-transfer (from liquid-phase to solid-phase) while the reaction is ongoing and evaluating the effectiveness of such a catalytic process in a practical reaction.

To elucidate this concept, the transesterification reaction was selected. Metal-alkoxides that possess acidic and basic properties (to catalyze the reaction), amphiphilic properties (to stabilize the alcohol/oil emulsion) and that can undergo condensation polymerization when heated (to separate as a solid subsequent to the completion of the reaction) were used to test the concept.

Studies included elucidating the effect of metal sites and alkoxide sites and their concentration effects on transesterification reaction, effect of various metal alkoxide groups on the phase stability of the reactant system, and kinetic effects of the reaction system.

The studies revealed that several transition-metal alkoxides, especially, titanium and yttrium based, responded positively to this reaction system. These alkoxides were able to be added to the reaction medium in liquid phase and were able to stabilize the alcohol/oil system. The alkoxides were selective to the transesterification reaction giving a range of ester yields (depending on the catalyst used). It was also observed that transition-metal alkoxides were able to be recovered in the form of their polymerized counterparts as a result of condensation polymerization subsequent to completion of the transesterification reaction.