|Avantium derives its Furanics fuels from the intermediate hydroxymethylfurfural. Illustration: Pacific Northwest National Laboratory|
Avantium, which spun-off from Shell in 2000, successfully completed an engine test to demonstrate the potential of its furan-based biofuels, or “furanics.” Furanics are heteroaromatic compounds derived from the chemical intermediate HMF (hydroxymethylfurfural, C6H6O3).
The cost-effective development of HMF and its fuel and chemical derivatives from biomass is of increasing research interest (earlier post, earlier post), given that the resulting fuels have significant advantages over first-generation biofuels.
For example, 2,5-dimethylfuran, one of the HMF-derived fuels being researched by Professor James Dumesic at the University of Wisconsin, has around a 40% higher energy density than ethanol, a higher boiling point (by 20 K), and is not soluble in water. Ethoxymethylfurfural (EMF, one of Avantium’s furanics examples) has an energy density of 8.7 kWh/L—very close to that of regular gasoline (8.8 kWh/L), nearly as good diesel (9.7 kWh/L) and significantly higher than ethanol (6.1 kWh/L).
Avantium is focused on the development of second generation biofuels and catalytic processes for the efficient production of novel bio fuels and bio-based chemicals. (The company also has a major focus in the pharmaceutical industry.)
By using its catalytic process development platform, Avantium has been able to find new and improved catalytic routes to specific furanics. Specifically, Avantium developed a one-step method for obtaining HMF derivatives in high yields from very hexose or hexose-containing starting materials such as sucrose and glucose.
The engine test. The engine test was performed by Intertek, in Geleen, The Netherlands, an independent test center. Using a Citroën Berlingo with a regular diesel engine, Avantium tested a wide range of blends of Furanics with regular diesel. The test yielded what the company termed positive results for all blends tested. The engine ran smoothly for several hours. Exhaust analysis uncovered a significant reduction of soot (fine particulates). Furanics do not contain any sulfur.
The excellent results of the engine test support the proof of principle of our next generation biofuel, and is an essential milestone for our biofuels development program. The significant reduction of soot in the car exhaust is encouraging, as soot emissions are considered a major disadvantage of using diesel today, because of its adverse environmental and health effects. We are developing a next generation biofuel that has superior fuel properties and process economics compared to existing biofuels. The production process of Furanics has an excellent fit with existing chemical process technology and infrastructure. Ultimately our ambition is to develop biofuels that are competitive with fossil based fuels.—Tom van Aken, Chief Executive Officer of Avantium
The company plans to undertake an additional, comprehensive engine tests in 2008 to study engine performance and long terms effects of Furanics. Commercialization will also require studies of toxicologic and environmental effects, such as emissions.
Avantium also announced the filing of over a dozen patent applications on the production and use of Furanics as part of the company’s strategy to build an extensive patent portfolio for its biofuels program. In September 2007, the first two key patents were published, that claim amongst others the use of furanics as a biofuel and its production routes from sugars.
(A hat-tip to Laurens at Biopact!)
Yuriy Román-Leshkov, Christopher J. Barrett, Zhen Y. Liu & James A. Dumesic (21 June 2007) “Production of dimethylfuran for liquid fuels from biomass-derived carbohydrates” Nature 447, 982-985 | doi:10.1038/nature05923>
Haibo Zhao, Johnathan E. Holladay, Heather Brown, and Z. Conrad Zhang (15 June 2007) “Metal Chlorides in Ionic Liquid Solvents Convert Sugars to 5-Hydroxymethylfurfural” Science 316 (5831), 1597. doi:10.1126/science.1141199]
European Patent EP 1834950: Method for the synthesis of 5-alkoxymethylfurfural ethers and their use
European Patent EP 1834951: Method for the synthesis of organic acid esters of 5-hydroxymethylfurfural and their use