Virent and Virdia, formerly HCL CleanTech, have successfully converted cellulosic pine tree sugars to drop-in hydrocarbon fuels within the BIRD Energy project, a joint program funded by the US Department of Energy, the Israeli Ministry of National Infrastructure and the BIRD Foundation. (Earlier post.)
The project, which commenced in January 2011, successfully demonstrated that Virdia’s deconstruction process generated high-quality sugars from cellulosic biomass, which were converted to fuel via Virent’s BioForming process. Virent used Virdia’s biomass-derived sugars to produce gasoline and jet fuel, the latter being sent to the US Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) for analysis where it passed rigorous testing.
This fuel passed the most stringent specification tests we could throw at it (such as thermal stability) under some conditions where conventional jet fuels would fail. This fuel is definitely worth further evaluation.—Tim Edwards of the Fuels Branch of the AFRL
While Virent’s BioForming process has previously generated fuels and chemicals from sugars in cellulosic biomass. the high-quality sugars generated from pine trees using Virdia’s process leveraged the conversion process, establishing a viable route to drop-in hydrocarbons from biomass, according to Virent Co-Founder and Chief Technology Officer Dr. Randy Cortright.
Virdia’s CASE (Cold Acid Solvent Extraction) process encompasses a sequence of proprietary extraction and separation operations. Originally developed around the Bergius process (concentrated hydrochloric acid hydrolysis of biomass), the CASE process achieves the highest yields in the industry, and produces high purity fractions of sugars and lignin. Its low temperature, low pressure hydrolysis coupled with its closed loops of acid recovery and solvent extraction establish it as one of the most economical and environmentally sustainable processes.
Virent’s BioForming platform utilizes a novel combination of catalytic processes to convert water-soluble oxygenated hydrocarbons derived from biomass to non-oxygenated hydrocarbons that can be used as drop-in compounds in gasoline, jet fuel and diesel fuel. Virent’s BioForming platform catalysts and reactor systems are similar to those found in today’s petroleum oil refineries and petrochemical complexes.