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Startup New Oil Resources commercializing hydrothermal process for conversion of biomass to gasoline-range hydrocarbons

The basic New Oil process. Click to enlarge.

Louisiana-based startup New Oil Resources (NOR) is commercializing a near-critical (i.e., 320-390 °C, 200-420 bar) aqueous phase process which converts biomass containing cellulose, hemicellulose and lignin into a high-octane gasoline fraction. New Oil Resources licensed the technology (US Patent 6,180,845) in 2009 from Louisiana State University (LSU); the original developers of the process are Drs. James Catallo and Thomas Junk.

Catallo and Junk determined that reacting organic compounds in near-critical or supercritical aqueous phases can transform the compounds over short time periods (i.e., minutes to hours) into petroleum-like hydrocarbon mixtures. The reductive process is conducted in anaerobic or near-anaerobic conditions, essentially free of any strong oxidants. Strong reducing agents or other co-reactants may be added to tailor product distributions.

New Oil Resources was co-founded by Catallo and Dr. Gary Miller. New Oil Resources’ process uses near-critical water to treat the biomass in a process commonly referred to as hydrothermal liquefaction or thermal depolymerization. Immediate applications include processing municipal sewage sludge, processing waste streams from the ethanol industry and converting algae to fuel. Algae can be processed without dewatering and all the carbon is converted to fuels, not just the fatty oils.

Conventional thermal depolymerization results in a thick, oxygenated oil, replete with heavy compounds (C9 to C20 (see chromatogram below); the heavy compounds are primarily phenols. With the New Oil tailored system, the liquefaction process much lighter, deoxygenated hydrocarbons, similar to the gasoline fraction produced in petroleum refineries. The product includes the high octane aromatics toluene, xylene and benzene, and no heavy compounds (see below).

Results from conventional thermal depolymerization. Click to enlarge.   Results from NOR process. Click to enlarge.

The operating conditions of the process can be changed so that C5 through C8 alcohols are produced instead of gasoline. Pentane and toluene are also produced in this alcohol production process.

Some 70% to 80% of the energy in the feed is returned in the final products. The remaining 20% to 30% of the energy is used to run the process. The process has a small footprint, produces renewable energy and is water friendly. It also utilizes technology and equipment already in use in the petrochemicals industry.

Our advantage is that we apply basic chemistry instead of using biological processes or relying on catalysts. The chemistry we use is similar to gas phase kinetics which is more reliable and much easier to scale up.

Our process is similar to that used by several companies worldwide. We use hot water to depolymerize the cellulose, lignins, lipids and other polymers contained in the biomass. The difference between all these companies is what you do next. We impact the chemistry so that the depolymerized biomass turns into the products we want. Cellulosic material comes out of our process as oxygen free aliphatics containing five to eight carbon atoms and aromatics. This product is similar to the high octane gasoline produced in petroleum refineries.

—Dr. Gary Miller




This sounds almost too good to be true. USA could use a few hundred (may be a few thousands)of those to convert all the harmful unused biomass waste to fuel. If existing (multiple) waste is not enough, it could be supplemented with cultivated non-food feed stocks.


Thermal depolymerization has been in development for decades, nothing sketchy about it.


Yes thermal depolymerization is not new but apparently this process is improved and control better the output, so far the problem was that the EROI of the process was not good and that the output product were not controlled, here they claim an EROI between 3 and 5 which is good though not stellar and output product that are better controlled

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