LanzaTech, Virent, RTI land DOE grants for drop-in biofuels

August 31, 2011 |

In Washington, U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu today announced up to $12 million to fund three small-scale projects in Illinois, Wisconsin, and North Carolina that aim to commercialize novel conversion technologies to accelerate the development of advanced, drop-in biofuels and other valuable bio-based chemicals.

The projects, funded through DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, seek to accelerate research and development that will lead the way toward affordable, clean alternatives to fossil fuels and diversify our nation’s energy portfolio.

“Producing advanced, drop-in biofuels in the U.S. will reduce America’s dependence on foreign oil and support development of a new industry that will create jobs in rural communities across the country,” said Secretary Chu. “These investments aim to accelerate the discovery of innovative solutions that could drive down the cost of biofuels production and boost their availability in the marketplace.”

Using innovative thermochemical processes, the projects will help to improve the economics and efficiency of turning biomass into replacements for petroleum-based gasoline, diesel, jet fuel, and other products.  Thermochemical processes use heat and catalysts to convert biomass, in a controlled industrial environment, into liquid and gaseous intermediates – or substances formed as a necessary stage in manufacturing an end product – which can then be chemically converted into fuels and other products. The funding announced today will further diversify DOE’s research and development portfolio in a breadth of fuels and chemicals derived from domestic cellulosic biomass, such as grasses, wood, and agricultural residue.

The following projects were selected:

LanzaTech of Roselle, Illinois will receive up to $4 million to develop a cost-effective technology that converts biomass-derived ethanol into jet fuel using catalysts. It will also produce a valuable bio-product called butadiene that could be used to improve the overall economics of the fuel production process. The objective of the project is to integrate and optimize process steps to drive down the price of biomass-derived jet fuel.

Research Triangle Institute of Research Triangle Park, North Carolina will receive up to $4 million to integrate two processes: a thermochemical process that produces a bio-crude intermediate from biomass, and a hydroprocessing technology that effectively and efficiently upgrades the bio-crude into gasoline and diesel. The project will demonstrate the long-term operation and performance of this integrated process with the goals of lowering costs and maximizing yields.

Virent Energy Systems of Madison, Wisconsin will receive up to $4 million to convert biomass into oxygenated chemical intermediates using an innovative thermochemical technology and upgrade the intermediates to a hydrocarbon, which can then be refined and blended into gasoline and jet fuel, as well as high value chemicals. Project objectives include demonstrating high yields of drop-in fuels and chemicals, confirming that this new process is viable and ready for scale-up, and gaining sufficient knowledge to design a larger-scale facility.

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