U.S. Department of Energy - Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy

Bioenergy Technologies Office

Bioenergy Technologies Office Announces the Release of Technology Pathways Memos

April 10, 2013

Two of the Bioenergy Technologies Office (BETO) national laboratory partners have recently published several technical memorandums resulting from their joint studies of biomass-to-hydrocarbon fuel conversion technologies. The studies identify barriers to developing technologies and target several research approaches that can reduce conversion costs. The studies—performed by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL)—were commissioned by BETO and will be used to direct the Office’s future out-year planning and multi-year program plans.  

BETO pursues a pathway approach for advancing research and development (R&D) of converting biomass into renewable fuels and products. Current R&D efforts are now focused on eight priority pathways for the conversion of biomass into hydrocarbon fuels and intermediates that lead to “drop-in” replacements for gasoline, diesel, jet fuel, and other petroleum-based products.   Seven of the eight priority pathways served as a focal subject for individual reports by PNNL and NREL. The reports identified key highlights and areas for future research. Highlights in the reports include:         

  • For fermentation of sugars to hydrocarbons, researchers found that there is the potential to produce high-value, targeted fuel components by leveraging past research in biochemical conversion technologies. This pathway will produce a hydrocarbon intermediate that will require only mild upgrading at a marginal cost to produce a final fuel blendstock. Please read the biological conversion report for more findings.         
  • For catalytic upgrading of sugars to hydrocarbons, researchers found that there is a potential to produce drop-in fuel blendstocks over a wide range of fuel grades and products. These blendstocks can be directly blended without further modification, making it a flexible pathway that can be combined with fermentation technologies to create more cost-efficient co-products. Please read the catalytic upgrading report for more findings.       
  • For algal lipid upgrading, researchers found that there is potential to expand targeted extraction and conversion into diesel-fuel range products and to create raw algal oil intermediates that would require marginal-cost upgrades. Please read the algal lipid report for more findings.      
  • For whole algae hydrothermal liquefaction, researchers found that microalgae have the potential to make sizeable contributions to renewable fuel supplies when hydrotreated under relatively mild conditions, especially because hydrothermal liquefaction does not require drying of algae or lipid extraction. Please read the whole algae report for more findings.         
  • For ex-situ catalytic fast pyrolysis, researchers found that use of ex-situ catalysts can produce a lower-oxygen-content intermediate, which can reduce the overall cost of conversion to hydrocarbon fuels. Please read the ex-situ report for more findings.         
  • For in-situ catalytic fast pyrolysis, researchers found a potential to reduce costs by producing lower-oxygen-content intermediates and by reducing overall hydrogen consumption. Please read the in-situ report for more findings.       
  • For syngas upgrading to hydrocarbon fuels, researchers found the potential to use syngas to create a wide array of hydrocarbon blending components that can be optimized with additional catalysts to create gasoline-range and diesel-range hydrocarbon fuels. Please read the syngas upgrading report for more findings.  

For more information on BETO’s approach to hydrocarbon-focused R&D, see the technology pathways fact sheets.