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Virent Energy Systems Receives $2-Million USDA-DOE Grant for Glycerol Conversion

Virent Energy Systems has been awarded a $2-million dollar grant from the US Departments of Agriculture and Energy to develop further its capabilities to convert glycerol, a co-product of biodiesel production, into renewable propylene glycol, a high-value chemical usually made from fossil fuels.

Virent is the developer of an aqueous phase reforming (APR) process for the conversion of readily available biomass-generated feedstocks, such as glucose, sucrose, sorbitol and glycerol to carbon neutral hydrogen, fuel gas or value-added chemicals. (Earlier post.)

This competitive grant was awarded as part of the joint USDA-DOE Biomass Research and Development Initiative, the purpose of which is to support development of technologies that help make bio-based fuels commercially cost-competitive with fossil fuels.

Working in conjunction with FutureFuel Chemical Company—formerly the Arkansas Operations unit of Eastman Chemical Company—Virent will optimize its yields of propylene glycol using glycerol of varying qualities.

FutureFuel Chemical Company will supply the glycerol and help design and then test the first prototype system at its Batesville, Arkansas biodiesel plant. Other competitive methods to generate renewable propylene glycol require the addition of hydrogen, a costly step not needed by Virent’s BioForming technology platform.

Propylene glycol is a component of personal care products, de-icing and antifreeze products, liquid detergents, paints, and resins. More than 2.6 billion pounds of propylene glycol, with a total market value of $1.7 billion, are sold each year worldwide.

Virent Energy Systems’ investors include Cargill and Honda.




A source of income for biodiesel producers.

Rafael Seidl

Allen -

just as importantly, a way to avoid getting stuck with a byproduct that you might otherwise have to pay to get rid of. When I visited a refinery here in Europe last year, that was their #2 worry related to scaling up biodiesel processing in line with their legal obligations. Number one was of course feedstock cost.


So how big is the potential market for propylene glycol?


If this process can produce it more cheaply then does the existing market grow?


IIRC, glycerol can be reformed to hydrogen and/or syngas.  Hydrogen could be used to turn esters into alkanes, syngas can be used to make methanol, and both can be burned for process heat.  The plant size might be too small to make methanol competitively, though.


At least as big as the Antifreeze market. Mono ethylene glycol (MEG) is the dominant fluid used, but is toxic. Mono propylene glycol (MPG) is not that harmful, and will likely replace it. There are some other markets, like hydraulic fluids, but see for yourself:
Uses for ethylene glycol:

_The US MEG antifreeze market is ~$3 billion a year. There is increasing demand from other sector for MEG, as well as DEG and TEG (which sometimes occurs in antifreeze in low concentrations; 1-10% of antifreeze, combined). Perhaps plastics and chemicals will replace antifreeze as the dominant market, for glycerol produced, diol alcohol dependent/derived chemicals.


Throwing away the glycerol component of the feedstock is just a waste of hard-won photosynthetic energy. OK it's easier from an engine design point of view to produce biodiesel, but it's so much more efficient to use straight vegetable oil (SVO).

I'd rather see a new series of 'flexfuel' engines capable of running on SVO, although I appreciate the technical obstacles to this aren't easy.


There is always the power generation market to sell glycerol to. It's handling and burning characteristics can't be any worse than number six fuel oil. At a power plant that I worked in we had to heat the oil to 110 degrees F just to pump it out of it's storage tank, Then we would heat it to 250 degrees to pump it through strainers, then we sprayed it into the furnaces using steam atomizing oil burners.
We burned everything from tar to used motor oil. Whatever was cheapest is what we ran on.
There are still alot of power plants in this country which still have dual fuel capability, natural gas and heavy heating oil.

Cheryl Ho

DME is an LPG-like synthetic fuel can be produced through gasification of Biomass. The synthetic gas is then catalyzed to produce DME. A gas under normal pressure and temperature, DME can be compressed into a liquid and used as an alternative to diesel. Its low emissions make it relatively environmentally friendly. In fact, Shandong University completed Pilot plant in Jinan and will be sharing their experience at upcoming North Asia DME / Methanol conference in Beijing, 27-28 June 2007, St Regis Hotel. The conference covers key areas which include:

DME productivity can be much higher especially if
country energy policies makes an effort comparable to
that invested in increasing supply.
National Development Reform Commission NDRC
Ministry of Energy for Mongolia

Production of DME/ Methanol through biomass
gasification could potentially be commercialized
Shandong University completed Pilot plant in Jinan and
will be sharing their experience.

Advances in conversion technologies are readily
available and offer exciting potential of DME as a
chemical feedstock
By: Kogas, Lurgi and Haldor Topsoe

Available project finance supports the investments
that DME/ Methanol can play a large energy supply role
By: International Finance Corporation

For more information:

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