Advanced Biofuels, a Transformative Industry
by Bruce C. Folkedahl (Biomass Magazine/Energy & Environmental Research Center) As part of the ongoing research at the Energy & Environmental Research Center, we have been developing a catalytic pathway to convert ethanol or mixtures of methanol and ethanol to higher alcohols, including butanol, through Guerbet condensation reactions.
Simply stated, cellulosic biomass such as wood chips can be converted into a mixture of gases in a gasifier, and the resulting syngas can be passed over a catalyst and converted to alcohols like ethanol. The goal of EERC’s research is to alleviate one of the major challenges and costs involved with cellulosic ethanol production, which is the coproduction of undesired quantities of methanol with the ethanol product.
Current biorefinery processing technology and associated commercial catalysts render the production of unwanted concentrations of methanol unavoidable. Methanol production is undesirable, as it is not an ideal gasoline additive because of its water affinity, corrosive nature, volatility-raising impact when blended with gasoline, and low volumetric energy content versus gasoline. Two potential solutions to the methanol problem are to limit its production, and/or separate it from ethanol. Both of these potential solutions present economic challenges.
Rather than fight methanol production during the syngas conversion process, the EERC is developing technology to capitalize on it. READ MORE