Experiments have confirmed that the base-catalyzed methanolysis of vegetable oils occurs much slower than butanolysis because of the two liquid phases initially present in the former reaction. For the same reason, second-order kinetics are not followed. The use of a cosolvent such as tetrahydrofuran or methyl tertiary butyl ether speeds up methanolysis considerably. However, like one-phase butanolysis, one-phase methanolysis initially exhibits a rapid formation of ester, but then slows drastically. Experiments show that the half-life of the hydroxide catalyst is too long to explain the sudden slowing of the reaction. Similarly, lower rate constants for the methylation of the mono- and diglycerides are not a reasonable explanation. Instead the cause has been identified as the fall in polarity which results from the mixing of the nonpolar oil with the methanol. This lowers the effectiveness of both hydroxide and alkoxide catalysts. Increasing the methanol/oil molar ratio to 27 in the one-phase system raises the polarity such that the methyl ester content of the ester product exceeds 99.4 wt% in 7 min. This has obvious implications for the size of new methyl ester plants as well as the capacity of existing facilities.
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