NREL Announces Five Year Collaboration on Biofuels

The U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) will be partnering with global specialty chemicals company, Johnson Matthey, in order to develop new ways to lower the costs of biofuel production.

NREL and Johnson Matthey have entered into a five-year, $7 million partnership as an effort to economically produce drop-in gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel from non-food biomass feedstocks, which will be conducted under a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA) between the two organizations. The main goal will be to improve vapor phase upgrading during the biomass pyrolysis process in order to lower costs and speed production of lignocellulose-based fuels.

“We’re delighted to be collaborating with NREL in this exciting field,” Andrew Heavers, Business Development Director for New Technologies at Johnson Matthey, said. “Combining Johnson Matthey’s understanding of catalysis with NREL’s biomass processing capabilities will help accelerate the development of more economic routes to biofuels.”

The non-food derived feedstocks used to produce the biofuels will vary from fast-growing poplar or pine trees to switch grass, forest and agriculture residue and municipal solid waste. The vapor produced from the pyrolysis of biomass can be used to make transportation fuel, if industry can efficiently convert it into the hydrocarbons similar to petroleum-based fuels used in modern engines.

Pyrolysis involves thermally decomposing organic materials using heat and pressure in the absence of oxygen. Pyrolysis vapors can contain carbon that can be condensed into oil, but impurities in that condensed oil is not suitable for engine use, or even readily converted into a fuel. This CRADA will develop catalytic materials that can convert these vapors into liquid fuels that can be used in cars, trucks, train engines, and jets.

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