The US Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) will partner with Johnson Matthey, a global specialty chemicals company, in a five-year, $7-million effort to produce economically drop-in gasoline, diesel and jet fuel from non-food biomass feedstocks.
The goal is to improve vapor-phase upgrading during the biomass pyrolysis process in order to lower costs and speed production of lignocellulose-based fuels; as part of the work, Johnson Matthey will supply and develop innovative new catalytic materials for such upgrading.
The non-food derived feedstocks used to produce the biofuels will vary from fast-growing poplar or pine trees to switch grass, forest and agriculture residue and municipal solid waste. It will not include anything that is actually food for humans.
The goal is to find catalytic systems that can produce biofuels cost effectively at scale.—Mark Nimlos, NREL’s research supervisor for molecular sciences
The work will be conducted under a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA) between NREL and Johnson Matthey. Currently, NREL has 184 active CRADAs with industry, the most of any national laboratory.
Pyrolysis involves thermally decomposing organic materials using heat and pressure in the absence of oxygen. Although the pyrolysis vapors contain carbon that can be condensed into an oil, impurities in that condensed oil make it not suitable to be used in an engine or even readily converted into a fuel. This CRADA will develop catalytic materials that can convert these vapors into liquid fuels that can be use in cars, trucks, train engines and jets.
The best outcome would be, in five years, to have a new catalytic process which can make gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel at a price range that is better than, or competitive with, the cost of existing fuels.—Mark Nimlos
The DOE has set a 2017 goal of producing hydrocarbon fuels from biomass for about $3 per gallon.
NREL is a world leader in biomass conversion research and will be conducting the necessary testing, from bench scale to pilot scale. Johnson Matthey is one of the world’s leading suppliers of catalysts and process technologies for a range of environmental and chemical applications, with facilities in the United Kingdom, the United States and more than 30 other countries around the world.