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ARS Home » Northeast Area » Wyndmoor, Pennsylvania » Eastern Regional Research Center » Sustainable Biofuels and Co-products Research » Research » Research Project #439258

Research Project: Thermo-Catalytic Biorefining

Location: Sustainable Biofuels and Co-products Research

Project Number: 8072-41000-112-000-D
Project Type: In-House Appropriated

Start Date: Sep 22, 2020
End Date: Sep 21, 2025

Objective 1: Develop thermochemical and/or catalytic, carbon efficient biomass conversion processes to produce bio-oils and bio-gas containing fractions suitable for use towards advanced commercially viable bio-fuels (jet, diesel, and gasoline carbon ranges). This includes co-conversion of biomass with other carbon sources (e.g., plastics from both agricultural and environmental waste) to enhance carbon efficiency. [NP306, C3, PS3A] Objective 2. Develop pre- and post-process thermo-catalytic depolymerization, distillation and extraction technologies to produce renewable chemicals and biocarbon materials from biomass, biochar, lignin and/or condensed phase bio-oils (furans, phenolics, chiral anhydrosugars, aromatics, biocoke fibers). [NP306, C3, PS3A] Objective 3: Identify and develop new feedstocks and accompanying technologies to produce biodiesel, renewable hydrocarbon diesel and biojet fuels from fats and oils. [NP306, C3, PS3A] Objective 4. Accurately estimate the economic values of thermolysis conversion processes to produce bio-based fuels and chemicals. [NP306, C3, PS3C]

Efficient processes will be developed for the thermo-catalytic conversion of lignocellulosic biomass and alternative fats and oils into advanced biofuels and renewable chemicals. For lignocellulose, advanced pyrolysis processes will be developed that balance deoxygenation and carbon efficiency for thermochemical biomass conversion in multifaceted ways. Processes that reduce the severity of deoxygenation during pyrolysis and produce stable, mid-level oxygen (~20-25 wt%) content (MLO) bio-oil will be developed. Some oxygen containing species can be valuable products in the petrochemicals space. Additionally, processes will be developed that achieve a high level of deoxygenation (</= 10 wt%) at a higher carbon efficiency than the current state of the art to target nearly finish drop-in fuels. This effort will include reactive pyrolysis methods to recapture carbon and hydrogen that is generally lost to gaseous products. Methods involving co-processing of biomass with waste plastics (polyolefins) will be explored, exploiting the high H/C and low O/C properties of the plastic to increase the efficiency of the biomass conversion. Separations and refining processes for the produced bio-oils and other biorefinery feedstocks will be also be studied. A research goal is to enhance production of 1) phenol, alkyl phenols and aromatic hydrocarbons 2) furans, anhydrosugars and other oxygenates 3) renewable calcined coke and coal-tar alternatives for aluminum smelting applications, and other carbonaceous solids via conversion of lignin, biomass pyrolysis oils and pyrolysis oil distillation residues. Finer separations processes for bio-oils are also needed to improve the quality of the synthesized coproducts. Finer separation of the whole oils (low and/or medium oxygenated oils) based on oxygenated species may lead to 1) increased downstream process yields and 2) increase the quality of calcined coke coproduct (chemical and/or physical properties). Alternative lipids sources such as fats, oils and greases from brown grease lipids (BGL), poultry fat, tallow, distillers’ corn oil and other sources will be converted to biodiesel via transesterification and renewable hydrocarbon diesel (RHD) via catalytic hydrotreatment and isomerization. These feedstocks have not been proven as suitable for either biodiesel or renewable hydrocarbon diesel. Elevated sulfur content in these feedstocks results in biodiesels or RHD that do not meet the ASTM specification for sulfur. A combined approach to sulfur removal will be taken, involving distillation and selective adsorption, will be employed and we will evaluate the process of converting fatty acids derived BGL into RHD. Techno-economic analysis (TEA) and life cycle analysis (LCA) models will be developed to advise the economic viability of the processes developed in this project.