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Ethanol-to-hydrocarbon technology advances

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Hydrocarbon Engineering,

Oak Ridge National Laboratory published an article in Scientific Reports on its new method to directly convert biomass-derived ethanol to a hydrocarbon blendstock, and is continuing to work with Vertimass, LLC. to commercialise it.

The Energy Department’s Bioenergy Technologies Office (BETO) provided funding for the Oak Ridge research that began in 2011. Oak Ridge licensed the technology to Vertimass, which was awarded US$2 million in BETO funding in 2014 to scale-up the technology. In 2015, Vertimass completed its technology validation, which was an independent, third party review that verified the baseline performance of the technology. Through the recent BETO award, Vertimass will continue to work with Oak Ridge and Technip, an engineering company, to develop the technical data needed in order to commercialise the technology.

Oak Ridge’s research offers a method to co-produce both hydrocarbon biofuels and renewable chemicals from biomass-derived ethanol. Through direct catalytic conversion, the ethanol is used to produce a hydrocarbon blendstock that can be blended with petroleum at a refinery to produce biofuels such as drop-in hydrocarbon fuel, jet fuel, or diesel, or to produce renewable commodity chemicals such as benzene, toluene, and xylenes (BTX).

The Oak Ridge ethanol-to-hydrocarbon technology would be a significant development for the industry because the ethanol industry has the capacity to produce more ethanol than can be currently absorbed by the market, a situation commonly referred to as the ‘blend-wall’, but the processes that will produce cost competitive, drop-in hydrocarbon fuel directly from biomass are still in development. Oak Ridge’s ethanol-to-hydrocarbon method could potentially expand the market for ethanol and enable production of drop-in hydrocarbon fuels more quickly, in addition to expanding production of jet fuel, diesel, and renewable commodity chemicals. Oak Ridge’s method would have lower operating costs and energy consumption than other possible processes to produce hydrocarbon products from ethanol, and the co-production of both fuels and chemicals could increase biorefinery profitability.

This BETO Conversion Programme project is part of BETO’s overall efforts to accelerate the development of a sustainable, cost-competitive advanced biofuel industry that can strengthen US energy security, environmental quality, and economic vitality, through research and development and market-based solutions in partnership with industry, academia, and national laboratory partners.

Adapted from press release by Francesca Brindle

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