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DOE researchers develop novel biomass gasification process for high-octane blendstock; DME intermediate

The US Department of Energy (DOE) Bioenergy Technologies Office (BETO) and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) have developed a novel process that uses biomass gasification to produce high-octane gasoline blendstock. The resulting blendstock is low in aromatic compounds.

To make this new blendstock, NREL’s indirect liquefaction team first converts biomass into synthesis gas (syngas) using a gasifier, a reformer, heat, and catalysts. The team, led by Dr. Dan Ruddy and Dr. Jesse Hensley, has optimized the efficiency of this process, resulting in a high yield of syngas per kilogram of biomass fed to the system.

Next, in a single step, the researchers use the syngas to produce an oxygenated intermediate—dimethyl ether (DME)—which is ultimately converted into a high-octane gasoline blendstock.

The NREL team has achieved more than 300 hours of continuous operation for their conversion process using a proprietary, but commercially relevant catalyst. To put this into perspective, past conversion runs were limited to just 24 hours.

This success provides a path for industry to scale up this novel technology in the near term. NREL and BETO have already established collaborations for further scale-up and integration at industrial sites.

For example, Enerkem, a Canadian producer of chemicals and clean transportation fuels, is working with NREL under a US Department of Energy Technology Commercialization Fund grant to scale-up production of high-octane biofuels from biomass-derived dimethyl ether.

NREL’s research has helped inform the efforts of the US Department of Energy’s Co-Optimization of Fuels and Engines initiative, which identifies bio-derived blendstocks that can enable greater efficiency and performance in advanced gasoline engines.

Increased demand for high-octane gasoline will create a new market for blendstocks that—due to their desirable fuel properties and low aromatic content—can be blended with traditional petroleum refinery streams.



This looks suspiciously like the route taken by the failed company Range Fuels.  They just weren't able to convert enough feedstock into product to make the process pay.  30,000 hours of operation won't help if that little thing isn't done right.


Some say renewable fuels can not be done, that must be why they are producing millions of gallons in the mid west.


It's easy to make ethanol from starch.  It's hard enough to make ethanol from corn stover that DuPont gave up on it.  And that's with cellulosic ethanol worth $4.33/gallon in California.

If you can't make money on your biofuel at $4.33/gallon, you just don't have a winning formula.




What reference?
The U.S. creates 15 BILLION gallons of ethanol per year, look it up.


You can choose between methanol or DME as an intermediate. With previous technology, methanol was simpler to produce. DME has been made from methanol via dehydration. In theory, it could be possible to skip that intermediate step and go directly to DME. Haldor Topsoe in Denmark had developed technology for this more than 10 years ago. Perhaps NREL has now done some progress in this area.

Methanol to gasoline (MTG) is a known process. It could be done with DME as well. I do not know which one would be the better option. In any case, they should be very close (re. cost and energy efficiency).

You always have the option to use the intermediates, Methanol or DME, as end products. That would save some cost in production but increase vehicle cost and fuel distribution cost (mainly DME).

Finally, no research so far has shown competitive costs for biofuels. You need subsidies and/or tax exemptions; or perhaps mandates, "green certificates" or any other incentive. Ethanol could not live on its own merits without incentives. Cellulosic feedstock is cheap but the process is more costly. That's why we still make ethanol from starch/sugar.


Methanol to DME to gasoline in the MTG process.
It has been done, it can be done, nothing new here.

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