|The BIOeCON biomass catalytic cracking process lowers the pyrolysis temperature resulting in a higher quality bio-oil product. Click to enlarge.|
Khosla Ventures and BIOeCON, a Netherlands-based research network focused on developing new technology to convert biomass to chemicals and fuels, have formed a joint venture—KiOR, Inc.—to develop and commercialize BIOeCON’s Biomass Catalytic Cracking (BCC) process. BCC technology converts lignocellulosic biomass into a bio-oil product that can be further upgraded to transportation fuels and chemicals.
Khosla Ventures is providing the Series A funding. In addition to furthering BCC development, KiOR will prepare for raising significantly more capital in the next two to three years.
The key technical problem in the conversion of cellulosic biomass into usable fuels is how to open up the inaccessible solid fibrous “woody” material, so that it can be effectively transformed. Most of the existing processes to unlock the woody structures are quite costly and intensive of energy or chemicals. BIOeCON has developed a simple non-energy intensive way to make the woody biomass accessible to catalysts and convert to a bio-oil product with significantly improved product properties compared to other thermal-chemical processes.—Paul O’Connor, founder and president of BIOeCON
BIOeCON’s process is based on catalytic pyrolysis, as opposed to classic pyrolysis. Although classic pyrolysis is a simple and effective process with no high capital costs, the resulting bio-oil is, according to BIOeCON, of low yield and product quality. Tarry and high in acidity, the bio-oil requires significant post-treating.
|Comparing temperatures of biomass decomposition for classic pyrolysis and BCC. Click to enlarge.|
The BCC process also has no high capital costs, but adds a proprietary, novel catalyst technology to lower the pyrolysis temperature with a resulting improvement in the yield and quality of the end product, which BIOeCon calls “Green Oil”.
Earlier this year, BIOeCON joined a consortium with several companies (including Akzo Nobel, Albemarle, ExxonMobil and Shell Global Solutions International B.V.) and several Dutch universities to participate in the CatchBio (Catalysis for sustainable Chemicals from Biomass) research project initiated by NIOK (Dutch Institute for Catalyst Research).
CatchBio initiates an 8-year research program in the field of catalytic biomass conversion, with the goal of processing the various components present in biomass (cellulose, hemi-cellulose, lignin, proteins and oils) in useful fuels, chemicals and pharmaceuticals. The kick-off for the project is 23 November.
Paul O’Connor. “Catalytic cracking: The Future of an Evolving Process”, Studies in Surface Science and Catalysis, Volume 166, 2007, Pages 227-251