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Honeywell’s UOP breaks ground on integrated biorefinery project in Hawaii for drop-in gasoline, jet and diesel from fast pyrolysis of biomass and catalytic upgrading

UOP LLC, a Honeywell company, has begun construction in Hawaii of a demonstration unit that will convert forest residuals, algae and other cellulosic biomass into renewable drop-in transportation fuels via a rapid pyrolysis process integrated with a catalytic upgrading process.

Backed by a $25-million US Department of Energy (DOE) award, the Honeywell UOP Integrated Biorefinery will utilize rapid thermal processing (RTP) technology (earlier post) to convert biomass into a pourable, liquid bio-oil (pyrolysis oil). This bio-oil will then be upgraded to gasoline, jet and diesel fuels using catalytic hydroprocessing technology being developed by UOP.

UOP, Ensyn and Envergent
In 2009, UOP and Ensyn Corp. launched a joint venture, Envergent Technologies, LLC, to offer Ensyn’s commercially proven Rapid Thermal Processing (RTP) technology to convert second-generation biomass such as forest and agricultural residuals to pyrolysis oil for use in power and heating applications. (Earlier post.)
The joint venture is also accelerating research and development efforts to commercialize next-generation technology to refine the pyrolysis oil into transport fuels such as green gasoline, green diesel and green jet fuel.
Organizationally, for the purposes of the DOE contract, Honeywell opted to go just with UOP; however, the RTP technology is the same as still being commercialized by Envergent.

While this first implementation of the integrated biorefinery technology is refinery-based, said Jim Rekoske, vice president and general manager of Renewable Energy and Chemicals for Honeywell’s UOP, the company envisions a process smaller in scale and self-contained with respect to needs for hydrogen and other utilities. Ultimately, he suggested, the entire fuel production process, not just the pyrolysis process, could be distributed closer to the source of the biomass.

The pilot facility will provide the opportunity to gain experience with and knowledge about the performance of different biomass feedstocks at a scale that will be helpful to potential customers, Rekoske said.

RTP is a fast pyrolysis process in which biomass is introduced into a vessel and rapidly heated to 500 °C by a tornado of hot sand and then rapidly cooled within seconds. A circulating transported fluidized bed reactor system similar to the one used in the UOP Fluid Catalytic Cracking (FCC) technology is at the heart of the process, which generates a relatively high yield (i.e., approx 75 wt%) of liquid bio-oil from residual forestry or agricultural biomass.

The process also produces by-product char and non-condensable gas, both of which can be efficiently used to provide process energy, which can then be used in the reheater to maintain the RTP process and/or in the dryer to condition the biomass.

The produced bio-oils deliver, depending upon feedstock, up to 8,680 Btu per pound.

RTP Yields
Biomass MaterialYield
Gross Caloric Value
Higher Heating Value
Hardwood 70 - 75 17.2 - 19.1 7,400 - 8,000
Softwood 70 - 80 17.0 - 18.6 7,300 - 8,000
Hardwood Bark 60 - 65 16.7 - 20.2 7,180 - 8,680
Softwood Bark 55 - 65 16.7 - 19.8 7,180 - 8,500
Corn Fiber 65 - 75 17.6 - 20.2 7,570 - 8,680
Bagasse 70 - 75 18.9 - 19.1 8,100 - 8,200

The bio-oil produced by RTP has a lot of heterogeneity, Rekoske noted, and can differ “pretty substantially” from one day to the next depending upon the biomass source. UOP’s upgrading process does not swap catalysts based on feedstock/bio-oil combinations, but “that required us to develop a more robust catalyst technology package,” he said.

Instead of trying to tune the process to deliver a particular product slate, UOP’s approach is “to take what nature gives us” from the particular feedstocks, Rekoske added.

The process tends to deliver predominantly a gasoline fraction; the size of the jet fuel and diesel fractions vary depending upon the biomass. The more lignin in the biomass, he said, the more gasoline output. The jet component from this process is intended to play an important role in enabling a more than 50% renewable jet fuel by contributing jet-range aromatics for blending with the synthetic paraffinic kerosene (SPK) produced from natural oils. (Earlier post.)

The dual-path process to combine aromatics derived from pyrolysis oil with synthetic paraffinic kerosene, as presented by UOP’s Dr. Joseph Kocal in 2008. Click to enlarge.

SPK, as approved by ASTM for use in aviation, can be blended in ratios up to 50%. To move to a more complete renewable jet fuel, however, the end product requires more than paraffins—it needs aromatics to meet density specs. Those aromatics can either come from a traditional petroleum refinery process, or via this new pyrolysis oil pathway that will be demonstrated in Hawaii.

That’s exactly what we intend to do with what we are developing in Hawaii. We took pyrolysis oil from the plant in Canada, converted it in the lab to jet-range aromatics through out upgrading process, mixed it with SPK, and provided it to Boeing, who flew it as a demonstration in their hydroplane. This really is a prime outlook for the jet blending component that we will be making in this project—to make larger quantities, to enable certification [of >50% renewable jet fuel].

—Jim Rekoske

Located at the Tesoro Corp. refinery in Kapolei, the Integrated Biorefinery will be used to demonstrate viability of the technology, test the fuels produced and evaluate the environmental footprint of the fuels and the process technology. The project, which will generate more than 80 new jobs during construction, is scheduled to begin initial production in 2012. It is expected to be fully operational by 2014.

Tesoro is providing the land as part of the project as well as valuable services such as analytics and security, Rekoske said.

Once successfully proven in this demonstration unit, a commercial-scale facility using the same technology could produce as much as 50 million gallons of drop-in green transportation fuels per year.

Honeywell’s UOP, a leading player for almost 100 years in developing process technology for the refining, petrochemical and natural gas industries, offers a range of technologies that convert natural oils and plant biomass to valuable fuels. Since formally launching its efforts in renewable energy and chemicals in 2007, the company has commercialized the UOP/Eni Ecofining technology for the production of Honeywell Green Diesel and the UOP Renewable Jet process for the production of Honeywell Green Jet Fuel, as well as forming the joint venture Envergent Technologies LLC to offer RTP technology and equipment.


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