|Liquid biofuels can be produced through a wide range of processes. The two main types of catalysts used in these processes are either biological or chemical. As shown in the figure, the majority of the pathways to biofuels production use chemical catalysts. Click to enlarge. Source: J. Regalbuto, NSF|
The National Science Foundation (NSF) has published a roadmap for the production of hydrocarbon biofuels—liquid transportation fuels derived from lignocellulosic biomass that are close analogs for their petroleum-derived hydrocarbon counterparts.
The report—Breaking the Chemical and Engineering Barriers to Lignocellulosic Biofuels: Next Generation Hydrocarbon Biorefineries—is one of the outcomes of a workshop on the topic held last June with more than 70 leading biofuels scientists and engineers. The workshop was sponsored by NSF, the Department of Energy (DOE) and the American Chemical Society; it was chaired by George W. Huber, University of Massachusetts-Amherst.
The report identifies the basic research needs and opportunities in catalytic chemistry and materials science that underpin biomass conversion and fuel utilization, with a focus on new, emerging and scientifically challenging areas that have the potential for significant impact. The report illuminates the principal technological barriers and the underlying scientific limitations associated with efficient processing of biomass resources into finished fuels.
The limiting factor to biofuels production is simply that low-cost processing technologies to efficiently convert a large fraction of the lignocellulosic biomass energy into liquid fuels do not yet exist.—“Breaking the Chemical and Engineering Barriers...”
The report focuses on six primary areas:
Selective thermal processing of lignocellulosic biomass to produce liquid fuels (bio-oils) in distributed biorefineries.
Utilization of petroleum refining technology for conversion of biomass-derived oxygenates within existing petroleum refineries.
Hydrocarbon production by liquid phase processing of sugars to a heretofore “sleeping giant” intermediate, hydroxymethylfurfural (HMF), followed by HMF conversion to “green” diesel and jet fuel.
Process intensification for diesel and gasoline production from synthesis gas (CO and H2) by Fisher-Tropsch synthesis (FTS), which dramatically decreases the economically viable size compared to traditional FTS processes with petroleum derived feedstocks.
Conceptual design of biorefining processes in conjunction with experimental studies at the beginning of research projects to allow rapid development of commercial biofuel technologies.
Design of recyclable, highly active and selective heterogeneous catalysts for biofuel production using advanced nanotechnology, synthesis methods and quantum chemical calculations.
NSF (2008) Breaking the Chemical and Engineering Barriers to Lignocellulosic Biofuels: Next Generation Hydrocarbon Biorefineries. Ed. George W. Huber, University of Massachusetts Amherst. National Science Foundation. Chemical, Bioengineering, Environmental, and Transport Systems Division. Washington DC