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Vertimass selected for negotiation for up to $2M from DOE for conversion of ethanol into gasoline, diesel and jet blendstocks; expanding the ethanol market (updated)

Ethanol conversion to hydrocarbons as a function of temp. at a LHSV of 2.93 h−1. Source: US 20140100404 A1. Click to enlarge.

Vertimass LLC has been selected for negotiation of an award to receive up to $2 million from the Bioenergy Technologies Office (BETO) within the US Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (earlier post) to support the commercialization of catalyst technology that converts ethanol into gasoline, diesel and jet fuel blend stocks, while retaining compatibility with the current transportation fuel infrastructure. (Earlier post.)

The technology—developed by Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s (ORNL) Chaitanya Narula, Brian Davison and Associate Laboratory Director Martin Keller and licensed exclusively by Vertimass—is expected to allow expansion of the ethanol market beyond current constraints. Existing US ethanol production plants currently have a capacity of approximately 14 billion gallons per year, a level that saturates current use as 10% blends with gasoline. However, the new Vertimass catalyst breaks that barrier by producing a hydrocarbon blend stock compatible in higher-level blends.

The majority of ethanol in the US is used as 10 percent blends with gasoline, and current US ethanol production has virtually saturated that market as a result of what many refer to as a “blend wall”. One of our goals is to overcome this blend wall challenge.

—William Shopoff, Vertimass chairman

While ethanol has been traditionally considered too low in energy density for use as a jet fuel, the Vertimass/ORNL catalyst can overcome that issue. This new fuel could also be used to power heavy-duty diesel-powered vehicles for which ethanol is not ideally suited. Thus, the technology would expand opportunities to use more ethanol from corn in the US, cane sugar in Brazil, and cellulosic biomass worldwide. Initial tests indicate the Vertimass fuels (Vertifuels) are compatible for blending with gasoline, diesel, and jet fuels with no engine modifications, but further tests are underway for ASTM certification.

The technology uses an inexpensive metal-loaded zeolite catalyst to transform ethanol into a blendstock consisting of a mixture of C3 – C16 hydrocarbons containing paraffin, iso-paraffins, olefins, and aromatic compounds with a calculated motor octane number of 95. Fractional collection of the fuel product allows for the different fractions to be used as blendstock for gasoline, diesel, or jet fuel. Benefits of the catalyst technology include:

  • A single step conversion of ethanol into a hydrocarbon blend stock without the addition of hydrogen.

  • the ability to process ethanol concentrations of ranging between 5 - 100%. In fermentation streams, the alcohol is typically in a concentration of no more than about 20% (vol/vol), 15%, 10%, or 5%. Thus, this process allows for the direct use of the fermentation stream—i.e., without concentration, or purification.

  • Production of minimal amounts of light gases.

  • Operation at relatively low temperature and atmospheric pressure.

  • The ability to shift product distributions in response to changing market demands.

This technology can also convert a range of other alcohol feedstocks such as methanol, propanol, and butanol into gasoline, diesel and jet fuel blend stocks as well as benzene, toluene, and xylene (BTX) that have valuable chemical markets.

Graph showing hydrocarbon distribution in product stream of 10% ethanol after catalytic conversion over Cu-ZSM-5 at 400° C at 12.5 h−1 LHSV. The compounds are (from left to right, identified by arrows) water, acetaldehyde, isobutane, 2-butene, acetone, 2-methylbutene, 2-methyl-2-butene, cis-1,2-dimethylcyclopropene, cyclopentane, 3,3-dimethylcyclobutene, benzene, 4,4-dimethylcyclobutane, toluene, 1,3-dimethylbenzene, 1-ethyl-3-methylbenzene, 1,2,4-trimethylbenzene, and 1-ethyl-4-methylbenzene. Source: US 20140100404 A1. Click to enlarge.

Tests have shown that the non-dilutive process is efficient across uses. Traditionally, ethanol has been considered too low in density for jet fuel; Vertimass and ORNL’s catalyst technology has overcome that issue with no modifications required. Additionally, converted ethanol has a composition compatible with various fuels, retaining output and consistency with zero engine modifications required.

The resulting liquid can be blended at various concentrations into gasoline, diesel and jet fuels without negatively affecting engine performance. Successful engine experiments performed on a variable valve actuation gasoline engine showed comparable performance and emission data to certification gasoline. After mixing with petroleum-derived fuels, the blendstock does not require modifications to the existing distribution infrastructure.

The blend-stocks produced with this catalyst technology are anticipated to fall under the Renewable Fuel Standard at the same level as the ethanol used as feedstock.

This green catalyst technology can be rapidly added to an existing ethanol plant with low capital and operating costs while providing fuel flexibility and essentially replacing dehydration operations. With the ability to add operations to existing plants at a rapid pace and low cost, the new product will help meet the goals of Renewable Standard Fuel production and also help the Federal Aviation Administration achieve their target of 1 billion gallons of renewable aviation fuel by 2018.

—Charles Wyman, Ph.D., president and CEO of Vertimass




The problem is that it raise the price of foods, this is silly and more polluting than conventional petrol.

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