Fractionation of fatty acid methyl esters via urea inclusion and its application to improve the low-temperature performance of biodiesel

Document Type : Research Paper


Agricultural and Biological Engineering Department, Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN 47907, USA.


Biodiesel is viewed as the alternative to petroleum diesel, but its poor low-temperature performance constrains its utilization. Cloud point (CP), the onset temperature of thermal crystallization, appropriately shows the low-temperature performance. The effective way to reduce CP is to remove saturated fatty acid methyl esters (FAMEs). Compared to current methods, this work describes an extraordinary approach to fractionating FAMEs by forming solid urea inclusion compounds (UICs). Urea inclusion fractionation reduces the CPs by removing high melting-point linear saturated FAME components. Urea inclusion fractionation in this study was performed under various processing conditions: mass ratios of urea to FAMEs to solvents, various solvents, FAMEs from various feedstocks, and processing temperatures. Supersaturation of urea in the solution is the driving force, and it significantly affects yield, composition, CP, separation efficiency, and selectivity. Through a single urea inclusion fractionation process, FAMEs, except palm oil FAMEs, resulted in CP reduction ranging from 20 to 42 oC with a yield of 77–80% depending on the compositions. CP of palm oil FAMEs could reach as low as -17 oC with a yield of 46% after twice urea inclusion fractionation. According to the model prediction, the cetane number after urea inclusion fractionation decreased about 0.7–2 but was still higher than the minimum biodiesel requirement. Oxidation stability after urea inclusion decreased according to the proposed model, but this can be mitigated by adding antioxidants. Emission evaluation after urea inclusion fractionation indicated decreased hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide, and particulate matter. However, it resulted in the increasing emission of nitrogen oxides. 

Graphical Abstract

Fractionation of fatty acid methyl esters via urea inclusion and its application to improve the low-temperature performance of biodiesel


  • Supersaturation of urea in solution regulates the urea inclusion fractionation process.
  • The yield loss can be minimized through hexane extraction.
  • Urea inclusion fractionation can reduce CP by over 20 oC for biodiesels containing less than 20% saturated FAMEs.
  • CP of palm oil FAMEs reached as low as -17 oC after double urea inclusion fractionation.


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