Vertimass licenses ORNL ethanol-to-hydrocarbon conversion technology; overcoming the blend wall with drop-in fuels
Vertimass LLC, a California-based start-up company, has licensed an Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) technology that directly converts ethanol under moderate conditions at one atmosphere without the use of hydrogen into a hydrocarbon blend-stock for use in transportation fuels.
The technology developed by ORNL’s Chaitanya Narula, Brian Davison and Associate Laboratory Director Martin Keller uses an inexpensive zeolite catalyst to transform ethanol into a blend-stock consisting of a mixture of C3 – C16 hydrocarbons containing paraffin, iso-parrafins, olefins, and aromatic compounds with a calculated motor octane number of 95. Fractional collection of the fuel product allows for the different fractions to be used as blend-stock for gasoline, diesel, or jet fuel.
The resulting liquid can be blended at various concentrations into gasoline, diesel and jet fuels without negatively affecting engine performance. Successful engine experiments performed on a variable valve actuation gasoline engine showed comparable performance and emission data to certification gasoline.
After mixing with petroleum-derived fuels, the blend-stock does not require modifications to the existing distribution infrastructure.
This technology is a pathway to overcome the ethanol blend-wall [i.e., the limitation on ethanol content in gasoline]. The blend-stock can be mixed into gasoline at higher concentrations than ethanol’s current limit of 10%; plus it can be added to diesel and jet fuel. It’s completely consumer-transparent.—Chaitanya Narula
In a 2012 presentation, the inventors said that the direct conversion process delivers a liquid hydrocarbon fuel yield of ~54-55% at 310°C, with ~6-7% ethylene and ~39% water byproducts, making the technology more cost-effective than previous approaches.
The ORNL team’s lab-scale tests also indicate the catalyst can operate at relatively low temperatures and pressures and can be regenerated under mild conditions, helping the technology withstand long periods of operation without significant degradation. Rapid aging shows catalyst durability at par with methanol-to-gasoline catalysts.
Preliminary ORNL analysis in collaboration with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Colorado shows the catalytic technology could be retrofitted into existing bio-alcohol refineries at various stages of ethanol purification.
Vertimass anticipates that the ORNL technology will be in demand by existing corn-based ethanol production plants, as well as new refineries coming online that aim to convert non-food crops such as switchgrass, poplar wood and corn stover into biofuels. The technology could also supply a source of renewable jet fuel required by recent European Union aviation emission regulations.
Vertimass is very pleased to be partnering with ORNL to commercialize this revolutionary technology that can broaden the market for alternative fuels. We have assembled a team of industry and technology leaders, including Dr. Charles Wyman, our president and CEO, who will take this novel catalyst from the lab to the marketplace. We see this technology as a significant step in moving the United States toward energy independence.
We plan to move quickly to make a bolt-on technology easily accessible to ethanol producers so they can expand their product line. It could also be incorporated into new plant designs to further reduce operating costs. We hope to move from the laboratory scale to a commercially available technology within four to six years.—William Shopoff, Vertimass chairman
The ORNL research was supported by DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. Initial funds were from the ORNL Laboratory Directed Research and Development and Technology Innovation programs and from the BioEnergy Science Center, which is supported by the US DOE Office of Science.
The mission of Vertimass LLC is to develop and widely license breakthrough technologies that substantially expand the use of sustainable transportation fuels that reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve energy security and domestic economies. Commercialization will lead to the widespread use of proprietary Vertimass technology for low cost production of sustainable transportation fuels for aircraft and heavy and light duty vehicles from multiple sources of biomass on a large scale.
Chaitanya Narula (2013) Direct catalytic conversion of ethanol stream into hydrocarbon blend-stock (ACS Spring 2013 National Meeting, CATL196)