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UMass Amherst Licenses Catalytic Fast Pyrolysis Technology to Startup Anellotech to Produce Renewable Biogasoline

Huber3
Huber’s process rapidly pyrolizes biomass in the presence of a zeolite (ZSM-5) catalyst. Click to enlarge.

The University of Massachusetts Amherst recently granted a biofuels startup company, Anellotech, exclusive global rights to the university’s catalytic fast pyrolysis (CFP) technology developed by chemical engineer and UMass Amherst faculty member George Huber for producing renewable biogasoline and other biohydrocarbon fuels. (Earlier post.)

Huber’s patent-pending technique offers a low-cost, single-step process for turning sawdust, woody stalks and other waste biomass into gasoline, diesel fuel, heating oil and valuable chemical commodities such as benzene, toluene and xylenes. Huber is a co-founder of Anellotech and chair of Anellotech’s scientific advisory board.

Using Huber’s rapid new catalytic pyrolysis technology, Anellotech has already demonstrated commercially relevant production not only of gasoline and biofuel precursors but of benzene, toluene and xylene in milligram and gram-scale bench-top reactors. Global markets for these chemicals are in excess of $50 billion at present.

Anything you can make from crude oil, in the next 10 to 20 years we can make from biomass. One of the beauties of biofuel is that the products are indistinguishable from those derived from petroleum oil today. People are going to pull up to the gas station and pump fuel produced with this clean, green technology in their cars without necessarily being aware of it. All the changes will be made on the front end, at the biorefinery. Rather than refining crude oil we’re going to be refining renewable biomass.

—George Huber

Conventional pyrolysis heats biomass in the absence of air; the resulting bio-crude or bio-oil has to be stabilized and upgraded in a subsequent catalytic step. Huber’s CFP process instead rapidly pyrolizes biomass in the presence of a zeolite (ZSM-5) catalyst. High heating rates and catalyst-to-feed ratios are needed to ensure that pyrolized biomass compounds enter the pores of the ZSM-5 catalyst and that thermal decomposition is avoided. Product selectivity is a function of the active site and pore structure of the catalyst.

Rapidly cooling the products creates a liquid that contains many of the compounds found in gasoline. In a 2008 paper in the journal ChemSusChem, Huber and his colleagues reported that the entire process was completed in under two minutes using relatively moderate amounts of heat. The compounds that formed in that single step, like naphthalene and toluene, make up one-fourth of the suite of chemicals found in gasoline. The liquid can be further treated to form the remaining fuel components or can be used as is for a high octane gasoline blend.

Anellotech plans to build its own plants and license the technology globally, and is now in the process of raising a Series A venture capital round. It is also designing and siting a pilot facility that will process two tons of feedstock per day, working with SPEC Engineering of Burlington, Mass., to assist in pilot plant design. Aspen Plus software will be used for process design simulation. The company hopes to open a commercial biofuel production plant by 2014.

David Sudolsky of New York City is the company’s president and CEO. Trained as a chemical engineer, Sudolsky is a specialist entrepreneur who previously helped four other biotech and bioprocessing startups, including one, Dura Pharmaceuticals, that was sold for $1.8 billion, the company said.

Huber’s new technique has been the most sought-after technology the campus has licensed to date. We’ve noted unprecedented interest from a number of quarters. Also, we salute Anellotech’s choice of David Sudolsky to lead the new firm through its next phases, including development of a pilot production plant. This is a very solid business decision.

—Nick DeCristofaro, director of UMass’s Office of Commercial Ventures, Intellectual Property and Technology Transfer

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Comments

kelly

This sounds important.

ejj

Going from "milligram and gram-scale bench-top reactors" to full-scale commercial refinery will take many years.

Mannstein

Start investing in poplar tree farms and make a killing.

danm

Even if this promise can be turned into reality, there isn't enough biomass to create the amount of oil we consume now. The oil we are taking from the ground was created from millions of years worth of biomass.
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This may one day replace aviation fuel but we still require EV's for ground transport.

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