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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.




If this catalyst works with ethanol, how would it work with light organic acids and such?  I am thinking of bio-oil as a feedstock.  Bio-oil is easily made from bulk biomass by fast pyrolysis, requiring no distillation or other energy-intensive processing and is easily shipped.  Bio-oil from torrefied biomass probably has a similar bulk energy content to ethanol as well.

Being able to capture and convert corn cobs, excess corn stover, sawdust, straw and other biomass to drop-in fuels in 2 steps represents major progress.


Quote from the article''We hope to move from the laboratory scale to a commercially available technology within four to six years''

What? you say that I will have to pay high price for gasoline for another 4 to 6 years ?? Im sure that I will pay for hydrogen instead and I will forgot these losers. Bang, LOL.

What they really meant is that they are paid by goverments to do useful researchs but they wait another 6 years to continue to be paid by goverments and since that time they will sale the patents to big oil to cash in bigger faster profits. Nobody ever will buy these low cost biofuels because they never gonna be put on sale.


This website is an outlet for dubious scientific crooks that are mainly paid by goverments worldwide but they NEVER has something to sale. Here we never see a business actually selling something else then ice engines with gasoline or diesel. The patents are automaticly selled to big oil that put them to the trash bin. I perfectly know that all these fuels and engines are just mud and metal and there are no reasons why it should be costly. I just paid 11 900$ for my dodge back in 2005 because I decided to invest the minimum I can. But I have to pay high price for the mud(petrol) I have to put inside to make it work, this is scandalous. Actually technology permit to build and commercialise a vehicle selled at 10 000$ that consume water as a fuel and do not pollute.

This website is a waist of time and pollute as it take electricity to run it.


gor, you're never going to see cheap hydrocarbons again.  Biomass is too scanty a resource to displace petroleum, and petroleum is not getting any more abundant.  What you CAN expect, maybe, is to have more of your motor fuel sourced from domestic waste rather than foreign wells.


POET corporation is making cellulose ethanol out of corn stover, they obviously feel that biomass is not "scanty". Now they can turn that ethanol into a gasoline additive that does not have a blend wall.


SJC I think the conventional wisdom is that even a country as agriculturally rich as the USA will only get around 4 Million Barrels per Day (MBD) of oil-equivalent from biomass. While 4 MBD is nothing to be discounted, (it is >120 billion dollars per year!), that is only 20% - 25% of present demand in the USA. The bulk of the transportation heavy lifting in the future will have to come via non-ICE technology. In any case we'll need bio-fuels for air transportation where the energy density of liquid hydrocarbons is essential.


So you are saying if we can only get 20%, that is not worth doing or that is not enough? I do not understand the notion that if we can not get all of our transportation fuels from an alternate source, we should just forget it and walk away.


He said that biofuels are going to be niche players, which is patently obvious as soon as you do a few numbers.  To call things niche players is not to say that they have no value.

I'm gaining experience with electricity as the heavy lifter, and while I have my complaints about the early implementation I have zero doubts that electric propulsion can replace at least 50% of current motor fuel demand in the USA.  Figuring 9 million bbl/d currently, half of that leaves 4.5.  If half of the biofuels can go to motor fuel, that leaves 2.5 mmbbl/d.

In the next few years, I expect batteries to be capable enough to economically replace 75% of LDV motor fuel demand.  It's just a question of doing it.

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