INSIGHT: US biofuels programme showcases up and coming technology

Al Greenwood


HOUSTON (ICIS)–The US Department of Energy (DoE) is doling out $118m to 17 biofuel projects that showcase a mix of technologies and feedstock, from biomass and algae to cracking, pyrolysis and gasification.

  • More than half of the applications are for pre-pilot projects.
  • If successful, the projects could provide chemical and fuel producers with renewable feedstock that do not compete with food.
  • Some of the technologies have been around for years.

A lit of the projects can be found here.

Making Polyols and Fuel from Algae
The application from Algenesis application would produce enough polyester polyols from its algae to make a line of prototypes of consumer products with the company’s partners, which include Corning, Trelleborg, BASF and Global Algae Innovations.

Algenesis refines its algae oil to extract saturated and unsaturated fatty acids. The saturated fatty acids are being used to make fuel. The unsaturated ones are being used to make the polyester polyols.

The resulting polyurethane is biodegradable and is already being used to make a line of shoes named Blueview Pacific.

Making Jet Fuel from Wood-Derived Terpenes
Captis Aire’s proposal seeks to develop a pre-pilot unit that will collect the terpenes that are released from drying green pine wood. Normally, these terpenes are burned off, producing greenhouse gases.

A catalysed process would convert these terpenes into components that can be blended into sustainable aviation fuel (SAF).

Under the proposal, Captis Aire would demonstrate a 1/250-scale pre-pilot terpene collector.

Its partners include Boeing, the Oak Ridge National Laboratory and Washington State University.

Making Fuel from Sugar and Hydrocarbons Derived from Cracking Biomass Comstock applied to develop a pre-pilot scale system that will demonstrate its process that cracks woody biomass to produce cellulosic sugars and a mixture of hydrocarbons it calls Bioleum, a substance that Comstock says contains 75% of the energy content of crude oil.

Comstock plans to ferment the sugars to produce lipids. It would then react those lipids with the Bioleum to produce a feedstock. From that feedstock, Comstock will produce drop-in fuels. It estimates it can produce 80 gal (303 litres) of fuel per dry tonne of feedstock on a gasoline equivalent basis.

Comstock’s collaborators include Haldor Topsoe, Marathon Petroleum, Novozymes, Xylome, RenFuel K2B, Emerging Fuels Technology, the University of Nevada Reno, the Natural Resources Research Institute of the University of Minnesota Duluth, and the State University of New York College, Environmental Science and Forestry.

Making Fuel and Protein form Algae and Captured CO2
Under its proposal, Global Algae Innovations will used direct air capture (DAC) to extract carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere to feed algae. Direct air capture will reduce costs and increase the amount of fuel that the algae farm can produce.

In its proposal, Global Algae Innovation will develop a project that can produce 50,000 gal/year of fuel intermediates.

Making Fuel from Algae
Under its proposal, MicroBio Engineering would develop a pre-pilot unit that would produce cultivate species of algae that will yield relatively large amounts of products that can be used to make fuel at a gasoline equivalent of 12,500 gal.

Major participants include Sandia National Laboratory, Cal Poly Sate University, the Pacific Northwest Laboratory, HydroMentia Technologies, Indian River County, Heliae Development, AECOM, and the consultant Joseph Weissman.

Pyrolysising Corn Stover to Make SAF
The proposal by the Research Triangle Institute would pre-process corn stover to remove alkali and alkaline earth metals before processing it via catalytic fast pyrolysis. Pyrolysis would produce biocrude, which would be hydroprocessed and distilled to produce sustainable aviation fuel (SAF).

The institute’s partners include the research arm of the ethanol producer POET and the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory of Florida State University.

Under the proposal, the group would determine the optimal operating conditions of a 1 tonne/day pyrolysis unit as well as the other processes involved in the production of the fuel.

Extracting Sugars from Biomass and Making Products from Lignin
The technology underlying the proposal from the University of California Riverside relies on moderate temperatures, tetrahydrofuran (THF) and very dilute sulphuric acid to extract sugars and lignin from biomass – in a process called cold-solvent enhanced lignocellulosic fractionation (CELF).

The sugars can be fermented to make ethanol or other renewable products.

The lignin can be used as a feedstock to make other products. .

The University of California Riverside is working with Suncor Energy and MG Fuels on the project.

Their proposal would build a scaled-up unit that would demonstrate the technology.

Gasifying Waste to Make Syngas for Fermentation
This proposal rests on LanzaTech’s synthesis gas (syngas) fermentation technology. LanzaTech already has plants that are fermenting the exhaust from steel mills to produce ethanol.

The proposal would rely on pyrolytic liquefaction to convert biomass and sorted municipal solid waste (MSW) into a liquid, which it would feed into a high-pressure gasifier.

The gasifier would convert more than 98% of the carbon of the biomass and waste into syngas. The resulting syngas would have negligible amounts of tar and soot, making it suitable for fermentation into ethanol.

The ethanol could then be converted into jet fuel.

The University of Utah applied for the proposal and it is working with LanzaTech, Ensyn, Linde and the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.

Making Jet Fuel from Algae
Viridos applied to develop a scalable system that will produce 0.5 dry tonne/day of algal biomass at its California Advanced Algal Facility (CAAF) in Calipatria, California. The biomass would be processed and extracted to produce at least 35 gal of upgradeable oils at the pilot plants of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), Viridos’s partner in the application.

Gasifying Wood to Make Syngas for Fermentation
LanzaTech’s project would demonstrate whether a pilot plant could gasify small-bore trees and other woody residues that the US Forest Service removes to reduce the risks of wildfires in the nation’s forests, according to its proposal.

The gasifier would produce char that could enrich soil and syngas that would be fermented by LanzaTech’s microorganisms to produce ethanol.

The ethanol would then be to make jet fuel at a plant being built in Soperton, Georgia by LanzaJet, an independent company in which LanzaTech owns an equity stake.

Making Fuel from Wastewater Sludge
MicroBio Engineering applied for a project that would produce a bio crude-oil by relying on hydrothermal liquefaction with supercritical water oxidation. The bio crude-oil could then be upgraded into sustainable diesel, marine fuel and jet fuel. By-products include phosphorus fertilizers and reclaimed water.

The project team includes the Great Lakes Water Authority, General Atomics, Leidos and the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.

Pyrolysing Biomass to Make Fuel
Alder Fuels applied for a project that would complete the engineering design work for the company’s first demonstration plant in the southeastern US, according to its application.

It would convert woody biomass into a biocrude by using fast pyrolysis. The biocrude would be converted into SAF, gasoline, diesel and marine fuel through hydroprocessing.

The demonstration unit would be designed to process 120 dry metric tonnes/day of forest residues and produce 3m gal/year of fuel.

Alder Fuel wants to integrate its fast-pyrolysis technology with the nation’s existing refinery infrastructure. Alder’s goal is for its biocrude to be able to be hydroprocessed with esters and fatty acids.

Team members include Honeywell UOP, Enviva, BTG Bioliquids, Technip Energies, Audobon Engineering, Green Star BCS, RPD Technologies, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, INL, ANL the Oak Ridge National Laboratory and Washington State University.

Making Fuel and Sugars from Biomass
The Brazilian ethanol producer GranBio had submitted an application under its US subsidiary AVAPCO.

AVAPCO’s proposal will build a plant that will produce 1.2m gal/year of SAF and renewable fuel from biomass. Co-products will include cellulosic sugars, a nanocellulose masterbatch and a nanocellulose dispersion composite (NDC).

AVAPCO’s process works by relying on sulphur dioxide and ethanol to fractionate biomass into cellulose, hemicellulose and lignin.

The cellulose and hemicellulose undergo hydrolysis to extract sugars, which can then be fermented to produce ethanol and other products.

Project partners include Petron Scientech, Byogy Renewables, Birla Carbon and Clark Atlanta University.

AVAPCO had noted some of the achievements of the first phase of its project.

  • It has produced pilot-scale quantities of SAF.
  • It has continuously produced BioPlus nanocellulose and nanocellulose dispersion composite at pilot-scale quantitites.
  • It completed a basic engineering package for a demonstration-scale project and it developed a commercialisation business plan.

Four of the projects plan to reduce the carbon footprint of existing ethanol plants. These ethanol plans rely on fermenting sugars extracted from corn.

Green Plains’s proposal would incorporate onsite production of synthesis gas as well as onsite solar panels and wind turbines. At the same time, it would reduce emissions from farms by using advanced crop management and by reducing fertilizer consumption.

Lincolnway Energy plans to produce biogas from stillage, corn stover or both., according to its application.

Under its proposal, Marquis would commission a gas fermentation plant from LanzaTech. The LanzaTech plant would produce additional ethanol by fermenting low-carbon hydrogen with carbon dioxide (CO2) produced from Marquis’s ethanol plant.

The Marquis application did not specify if the hydrogen would be green or blue.

The proposal from RenewCO2 would rely on the company’s electrochemical process, which relies on a catalyst to convert water and CO2 from an ethanol plant into monoethylene glycol (MEG).

Insight by Al Greenwood


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