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Catalytic Conversion of Plant Biomass into Value-Added Chemicals and Biofuels or Fuel Intermediates Executive Summary



Catalytic Conversion of Plant Biomass into Value-Added Chemicals and Biofuels or Fuel Intermediates Executive Summary

Name: Catalytic Conversion of Plant Biomass into Value-Added Chemicals and Biofuels or Fuel Intermediates
Elevator Pitch: Technology to improve the economics of converting lignocellulosic biomass feedstock to HMF, a DOE target feedstock.
Department: Chemistry Department, Colorado State University

Please click here for a PDF of the Catalytic Conversion of Plant Biomass into Value-Added Chemicals and Biofuels or Fuel Intermediates Executive Summary

Opportunity
The Innovation Center of the Rockies (ICR) is assembling a group of advisors to help understand the commercial potential for the Catalytic Conversion of Plant Biomass into Value-Added Chemicals and Biofuels or Fuel Intermediates technology. This technology can improve the economics of the conversion of lignocellulosic biomass feedstock to HMF, a DOE target chemical feedstock. It also could improve the economics of the conversion of HMF to jet fuel or kerosene. Finally, the catalyst technology could also improve the economics of the conversion of HMF to higher carbon chemicals.

The ICR advisor group will be selected based on their understanding of biomass conversion to ethanol along with the economics of longer chain carbon compounds from biomass. Specific expertise related to the challenges associated with the conversion of lignocellulosic biomass would be extremely valuable. Individuals familiar with the selection of HMF as a target chemical feedstock by the DOE and the related sources of funding from the DOE supporting the commercialization of biomass to HMF and DOD biofuel funding sources would be desirable.

The goal of the ICR advisor group would be to select the specific customer need best met by the HMF Catalyst Technology as well as potential business models to move this project forward commercially.

Background
While alternative fuels from biological sources are already in use, these first generation biofuels are derived from edible crops and divert from the global food supply. The result has been higher food costs and global food shortages. It is now widely recognized that the future of biofuels is in the conversion of inedible sources of biomass, such as sawdust, corn stover, wheat stalks, straws, grasses, forest wastes, and other plant matter (collectively referred to as lignocellulosic biomass or plant biomass). The global supply of such naturally renewable biomass is enormous and inexpensive.

It has also been widely recognized within the biofuel industry that biorefining of value-added chemicals is an essential component to any successful operation. Analogous to oil refining within the petroleum industry, biorefining allows for the production of chemical feedstocks and an array of value-added products that nicely complement biofuel production.

HMF (5’-hydroxymethylfurfural) has been identified as a key and versatile biorefining building block for sustainable chemicals, materials, and liquid fuels. The HMF pathway is highly desirable as the conversion of cellulose to HMF can be achieved by chemical, biological, and hydrothermal pathways, and the conversion of HMF to biofuel and a variety of value-added chemicals is also known and generally feasible.

Nevertheless, several challenges and opportunities exist with the HMF chemical pathway. Methods suitable for the industrial scale conversion of cellulose to HMF have not been developed. Furthermore, although the easiest accessible biofuel from HMF (dimethylfuran, DMF) is twice as energy dense as ethanol, it is still only a six carbon (6C) fuel and therefore not as energy dense as higher carbon forms of fuel, such as jet fuel or diesel. Upgrading of HMF to a higher carbon fuel without the use of additional carbon sources is a particularly difficult challenge for which no industrially acceptable solutions exist.

Inventions for use within the HMF pathway
Conversion of biomass to HMF using aluminum-based catalysts
The faculty’s research group has developed a new catalytic system that converts cellulose and glucose into HMF. A variety of aluminum-based catalysts may be used, many of which are far cheaper than the current benchmark CrCl2 catalyst (as low as ~1% of the price of CrCl2) and have realized conversion rates that match or exceed the state-of-the-art. The aluminum compounds have been shown to produce higher yields of HMF than CrCl2-based systems with the added benefit of much lower toxicity.

Conversion of biomass to HMF using highly active and lower cost nanoparticle
The research group has also developed a new catalytic system for converting cellulose and other sugars to HMF using chromium nanoparticles. This chromium nanoparticle catalyst system has been shown to possess greater catalytic activity than conventional systems using CrCl2 as a catalyst. The increased catalytic activity results in lower catalyst loading requirements, reducing the overall cost of biomass-to-HMF conversion. The nanoparticle catalyst precursor is also more stable, when exposed to air, and considerably cheaper, than CrCl2, making the system more practical in an industrial setting.

Upgrading of HMF to higher carbon (12C) jet fuel or kerosene
The research group has developed a novel catalytic system by which the feedstock chemical HMF can be upgraded into a higher carbon fuel (12C), classified as either kerosene or jet fuel. The system upgrades HMF (a 6C compound) by coupling two HMF molecules together to form a 12C compound (di(hydroxymethyl)furoin, or DHMF), which then undergoes standard hydrogenation/hydrogenolysis processing to form a suitable fuel for use as kerosene or jet fuel. Importantly, this upgrading process stands alone as the only HMF upgrading technology that does not require the 1:1 addition of another compound (as the source of additional carbon). The upgraded fuel is significantly more energy dense than HMF and can be used as a kerosene or jet fuel.

This upgrading process offers many advantages that will help biofuel compete with its petroleum equivalent. The nontoxic, organic catalyst upgrades HMF to DHMF at room temperature or under industrially-preferred conditions (60⁰ to 80⁰C). The conversion catalyst is nontoxic and rapidly upgrades HMF to DHMF (1 to 24 hours, depending on temperature). Yields in excess of 86% have been realized under industry-relevant settings.

This technology also offers the possibility for a one-pot biofuel synthesis (i.e. conversion of cellulose to HMF to DHMF without the need for purification between steps). This is still in development.

Conversion of DHMF to liquid polyols
The research group has developed several systems to convert DHMF (12C) to liquid chemicals. These chemicals, which can be classified as polyols, maybe be used as either liquid fuels or as value-added, specialty chemicals (e.g., for personal care and cleaning products).

Upgrading of DHMF to higher carbon (16C and higher) liquid fuels
This reaction upgrades DHMF (12C) into higher carbon fuels, including 16C and 21C. The latter compound is particularly exciting as it can serve as a diesel fuel. Both compounds may be used as is, or may be further processed via straightforward hydrogenation/hydrogenolysis.

When combined with the technologies described above, this technology allows for a complete solution to the processing of high value, high energy density diesel fuel from any cellulosic biomass.

Some of the desired experience we are recruiting for
•Biomass conversion to ethanol
•Funding supporting the commercialization of biomass to HMF
•Conversion of lignocellulosic biomass
•Economics of longer chain carbon compounds from biomass

Technology Benefits
•Lower cost
•Higher efficiency
•Non toxic
•Low temperature

Keywords
Biomass, catalysts, biofuel, chemical engineering, biofuel synthesis, fuel intermediates, HMF, furfural, bio refining

To Indicate an Interest or for More Information: 303.444.2111 or Eric@InnovationCenteroftheRockies.com. Please include a copy of your resume.