Mixed metal oxide catalysts (ZnO, CeO, La2O3, NiO, Al203, Si02, TiO2, Nd2O3, Yb2O3, or any combination of these) supported on zirconia (ZrO2) or hydrous zirconia are provided. These mixed metal oxide catalysts can be prepared via coprecipitation, impregnation, or sol-gel methods from metal salt precursors with/without a Zirconium salt precursor. Metal oxides/ZrO2 catalyzes both esterification and transesterification of oil containing free fatty acids in one batch or in single stage. In particular, these mixed metal oxides supported or added on zirconium oxide exhibit good activity and selectivity for esterification and transesterification. The low acid strength of this catalyst can avoid undesirable side reaction such as alcohol dehydration or cracking of fatty acids. Metal oxides/ZrO2 catalysts are not sensitive to any water generated from esterification. Thus, esterification does not require a water free condition or the presence of excess methanol to occur when using the mixed metal oxide catalyst. The FAME yield obtained with metal oxides/ZrO2 is higher than that obtained with homogeneous sulfuric acid catalyst. Metal oxides/ZrO2 catalasts can be prepared as strong pellets and in various shapes for use directly in a flow reactor. Furthermore, the pellet has a strong resistance toward dissolution to aqueous or oil phases.
FEDERALLY SPONSORED RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT
This invention was made with government support under Contract No. DEFG36-05G085005 awarded by the U.S. Department of Energy. The U.S. government may retain certain rights to the invention.