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Tubular Heat Exchangers for Biodiesel Production

Biodiesel Production Case Study: Background


SACOME was commissioned with the execution of the manufacturing of the tubular heat exchangers within a system of production of biodiesel coming from palm oil. We collaborated actively with our client that was an engineering company in biodiesel technologies, bringing our expertise and know-how in the thermal and mechanical design both for the condensers and the evaporators of methanol and ethanol-based fluids:


    • Condensers: The duty of the heat exchangers was to condense either pure methanol or a mixture of vapors phases (composed by condensable components as methanol and water, and non-condensable ones, as air). Moreover the condensation had to take place in vacuum conditions.A correct thermal design of the heat exchangers was a critical point in this case. For condensation of gas mixtures (further having non-condensable phases as mentioned) the process doesn’t take place in isothermal conditions like it happens with pure components, demanding thus a very accurate calculation to be done by our engineers. Besides, our Technical Department advised the client for each case about the use of the most suitable cooling fluid, as tower water, or glycol solutions.


    • Evaporators: The calculation of the boiling process had several details to be taken into account, as the risk of having mist flow or the difficulty of getting complete boiling, among others.


Our experts in the thermal design, backed by our experience since 1975 in the process industry, together with the support of  Heat Transfer Research, Inc. (organization we are members of since 1.998) carried out a customized and reliable engineering solution adapted to the system of our client.

Our solution: Methanol Evaporators and Condensers


Given the process data, our Engineers did the thermal design both for the condensers and the evaporators, checking for every case different alternative, with the aim to offer the best solution to our client.


With this is mind, we describe as follows the most important points considered in the design of the process equipment:

    • Methanol Vapourisers: Boiling is one of the thermal processes requiring a deeper knowledge by the designer. In this case the evaporation was done by heating the methanol vapors using water steam as service media. Our engineers chose a suitable design to avoid mist flow (what can make it difficult to fully evaporate the entering stream) and oversized suitably the process flowrate, thus ensuring that the required boiling capacity was reached. Our designers chose a suitable design to avoid dry wall mist flow, as it could lead to high tube wall temperatures.


    • Methanol Condensers:  The condensation hasn’t got so sensitive issues in the thermal calculation, although it is important to take care in the design to choose a suitable baffle geometry and spacing, to ensure a good draining of the condensates and to avoid also vibration risks in the shellside. In this regard, our Technical Department used the latest version of HTRI software that has a specific module for the checking of vibrations.

Biodiesel Production Process


The biodiesel is produced by chemical reactions of transesterification and esterifications, starting from vegetable or animal fats and oils (pure or recycled) that react with short-chain alcohols, as methanol or ethanol. 


Along this reaction, whose main step takes place in a reactor, other products and byproducts are processed or generated, as glycerol (useful in the cosmetic industry), soaps or residual water.


Product Specifications


Biodiesel is a vegetable oil (sometimes it can also be animal-fat based oil) diesel fuel, that is composed by long-chain alkyl esters.

It can be used either alone (known in this case as B100 biodiesel) or blended in any proportions with conventional hydro-carbon.

Diesel coming from petrol (in this case it is labeled depending on the biodiesel content, i.e. B20 for 20% biodiesel content, etc.).


In our project the lipid raw material was palm oil, although biodiesel can also be obtained from other vegetable oils with or without prior use, as rapeseed or soya oil.

Process for biodiesel production

Tubular Heat Exchanger Design


For this project we supplied our multitube type heat exchanger I-TFM-I. We describe some relevant features of the supplied process equipment:

Horizontal or vertical disposition

In order to get the better performance, the Engineers from our Technical Department recommended our client the best disposition (either horizontal or vertical) for each process (for both condensation and evaporation).

Intercambiador tubular industrial de múltiples pasos de haz tubular no extraible.

Checking of vibrations with HTRI software

As members of HTRI since 1.998, our skilled designers did the thermal calculations with the latest version of HTRI. This software helps not only to predict accurately the thermal performance of the boiling and condensation, but also has a special module for the checking of vibrations, what takes on special relevance for processes with gases in shellside.

Heat Transfer Research, Inc.


Our Technical Department took special care to choose a suitable material, nonreactive to the processed fluids. Biodiesel can degrade natural rubber gaskets.

Compliance with 2014/68/UE

Given that the processed fluids (particularly methanol and ethanol vapors) were gaseous and are considered by the Pressure Vessels European Directive 2014/68/UE as flammable products, the equipments were qualified as Cathegory III and IV.


Nueva Directiva de Aparatos a Presión


Mechanical design under vacuum conditions

After the thermal design, our engineers did the strength calculations, in which it’s worth to mention the checking against full vacuum due to the operation conditions of the equipments.

Corrugation of the inner tubes

The corrugation of the inner tubes can effectively help to get full boiling by avoiding the mist flow.

For more information on this topic, please check our technical article with regards to our Corrugated Tube Heat Exchangers.

SACOME scope of supply for biodiesel production


Methanol condensers

Vent condensers

Glycerine reboilers

Bleached oil heaters

Methylester stripping columns

Glycerin distillation columns

Methanol distillation columns

Oil refining columns

Third transesterification reactors

Methanol rectification columns

Oil / trysil mixing tanks


Bleached oil buffer tanks

Additives/oil mixing tanks

Citric acid solution vessels

Mixing Reactors

Gum recovery tanks

Bleaching earths charging vessels

Glycerine holding vessels

Methylester holding vessels

Barometric tanks

Oil intermediate tanks

Methanol recycle tanks

Methanol holding tanks

Acidulate water holding vessels

CIP tanks

Vacuum buffer tanks

Oil/water settling tanks

Condensate recovery tanks

Warm water holding tanks

Citric acid holding tanks

Centrifugal cover washers

Bleached oil dryers

Degummed oil intermediate tanks

Key Figures

The below table shows the high dimensions and capacity of  the condensers, evaporator, distillation columns and other pressure vessels design and manufactured for SACOME for the Biodiesel Industry.


Max. Weight (Kg): 5.850

Max. Length (mm): 5.855

Max. Diameter (mm): 726


Max. Weight (Kg): 5.850

Max. Length (mm): 6.525

Max. Diameter (mm): 355,6


Max. Weight (Kg): 4.000

Max. Length (mm): 6.400

Max. Diameter (mm): 650


Max. Weight (Kg): 22.000

Max. Length (mm): 21.250

Max. Diameter (mm): 2.520


Max. Weight (Kg): 5.850

Max. Length (mm): 5.740

Max. Diameter (mm): 2.716


Max. Weight (Kg): 1.900

Max. Length (mm): 4.900

Max. Diameter (mm): 1.616


Max. Weight (Kg): 7.200

Max. Length (mm): 5.320

Max. Diameter (mm): 2.820

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