MODELLING, SIMULATION AND SENSITIVITY ANALYSIS OF A FATTY ACID METHYL ESTER (FAME) REACTIVE DISTILLATION (RD) PROCESS USING ASPEN PLUS
Reactive distillation, being an intensified process of combining reaction and distillation in a single vessel, is an ongoing research. This work considered the use of this novel process to investigate the esterification of a fatty acid methyl ester, an alternative fuel, biodiesel, which is a potential economic bedrock via modelling, simulation and sensitivity analysis in Aspen Plus. The selection of FAME was conducted based on the source of the oil for quality biodiesel and on its compatibility with the software; these led to the selection of oleic acid as the fatty acid of the process. A reactive distillation process for a reaction between oleic acid and methanol was then set up in the Aspen environment and tested for convergence, after a successful simulation, two operating parameters (reflux ratio and reboiler duty) were varied from 2.0-5.5 and 1350-1800 W, respectively. Afterwards, graphical representations of composition profiles, temperature profiles and sensitivities of mole-fraction to reboiler duty at different reflux ratios were obtained. Results obtained showed that a reflux ratio of 2.0 was most compatible with a reboiler duty of 1800 W to produce a methyl oleate mole fraction of 0.7627 in the bottom product. Given the novelty of this process in comparison with the conventional independent reaction and separation, more experiments should be carried out to help show any discrepancy between reality and simulation world.