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.