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Department of Energy to Invest up to $7.0 Million in five Innovative Biofuels Projects

October 7, 2008

WASHINGTON, DC – The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) today announced the selection of five advanced biofuels projects in which DOE plans to invest up to $7.0 million.  These awards to U.S. Research Organizations and Institutions of Higher Education will support research and development (R&D) in the stabilization of biomass fast pyrolysis oils.  This work seeks cost-effective, environmentally friendly biomass conversion technologies for converting non-food feedstocks into advanced biofuels.  Combined with the minimum cost share of 20 percent, more than $8.75 million is slated for investment in these six projects. 

These projects represent an investment in R&D to advance cost effective, practical technology needed for stabilization of biomass fast pyrolysis oils.  Stabilization involves removing char, lowering the oxygen content, and reducing the acidity of the pyrolysis oil, derived from cellulosic biomass feedstocks.  This stabilized py-oil offers the potential of a greenhouse gas neutral, renewable, and domestically produced feedstock for a  petroleum refinery.  The finished liquid fuel products from this biomass process would be indistinguishable from hydrocarbon fuels currently produced from petroleum feedstocks.

DOE is investing in these novel technologies to pursue R&D in support of the goals established in the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 for advanced biofuels and the Administration’s production targets.

The following are the five projects that were recently competitively selected for negotiation of awards:


UOP LLC, a Honeywell Company, has assembled a comprehensive team to develop an efficient, economical system for pyrolysis oil stabilization.  The team has identified methods based on prior work showing the potential for good performance and/or simple, cost-effective industrial-scale implementation.  UOP proposes a multi-track technical approach to identify the best technology, or combination of technologies.  The potential synergies among treatments will be assessed using initial data; the best combinations of treatments will be carried forward for further evaluation.  Finally, the most effective combination of technologies will be demonstrated at pilot scale to support complete techno-economic evaluation and subsequent commercialization.  The outcome of the project is expected to be an economically-viable pyrolysis stabilization system with the potential to increase the value of the pyrolysis oil product and to decrease capital and operating costs of downstream processing units.

Virginia Polytechnic Institute & State University

The objective of the proposed research is the demonstration and development of a novel biomass pyrolysis technology for the production of a stable bio-oil.  The approach is to carry out catalytic hydrodeoxygenation (HDO) and upgrading together with pyrolysis in a single fluidized bed reactor with a unique design that permits the physical separation of the two processes.  The proposed work will include reactor modeling with state-of-the-art computational fluid dynamics with a supercomputer, and advanced kinetic analysis for optimization of bio-oil production.  A multi-disciplinary team has been assembled to handle laboratory demonstration studies and computational analyses for optimization and scale up.  The parallel experimental and theoretical work, if successful, will produce a process ready for commercialization.

State University

The objective of this project is to develop practical, cost effective methods for stabilizing biomass-derived fast pyrolysis oil for storage under ambient conditions.  The team of Iowa State University and ConocoPhillips is proposing four distinctive innovations to improve bio-oil stability including biomass pretreatment, filtering of bio-oil vapors, fractionating recovery of bio-oil liquids, and catalytic post-treatment of liquid bio-oil.  These technologies are expected to be suitable for both stand-alone and distributed processing facilities.

RTI International (RTI)

The primary objective of this proposal is to develop highly active and stable catalysts for the stabilization of bio-oil by catalytic deoxygenation of biomass-derived pyrolysis vapors at process temperatures and, prior to condensation, to produce a stabilized bio-oil.  The goal is to produce a condensed, deoxygenated, bio-oil intermediate that has more desirable physical and chemical properties for subsequent upgrading to liquid transportation fuels in existing petroleum refineries or in stand-alone, centralized upgrading facilities.  Comprehensive chemical analysis of the bio-oil samples will be performed to gain a deeper understanding and ultimately control the process for producing a stable bio-oil intermediate suitable for upgrading to advanced biofuels.  Process modeling and techno-economic analyses of various biomass pyrolysis scenarios will be performed to address the economic competitiveness of biomass pyrolysis in current and future fuel markets.  Integrating biomass pyrolysis technology with available feedstock resources and existing capital infrastructure will help define the scale and opportunities for this developing thermochemical conversion technology.

University of Massachusetts-Amherst

The objective of this proposal is to develop economical technologies for the production of a stable bio-oil that has low char content and a neutral pH using a combination of membrane and catalytic technologies.  This will produce an improved bio-oil that is stable and can fit into existing petroleum refinery infrastructure.  This will allow pyrolysis oil to be used as a direct substitute for petroleum oil in a number of applications including industrial heating and as a feedstock to petroleum refineries.  Renewable Oil International (ROI) will bring the new technologies into commercialization by integrating them into their existing bio-oil production technology based on patented fast pyrolysis reactors.  The research team has worked together for over a year to develop catalytic processes for the upgrading of bio-oils.  This project will provide critical funding so that bio-oils can be used in industrial liquid fuels markets.