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NREL and Johnson Matthey for Biofuels

December 16, 2012 in Biodiesel, Biofuels, Companies by Rich Piellisch  |  No Comments

DoE Lab and Company Agree to Five-Year, $7 Million Collaboration,
Their Goal Is New Catalysts to Lower the Cost of Producing Biofuels

The U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory said Friday that it will partner with global specialty chemicals specialist Johnson Matthey in a five-year, $7 million effort to economically produce drop-in gasoline, diesel and jet fuel from non-food biomass feedstocks. The project will marry NREL’s biomass processing capabilities and “Johnson Matthey’s understanding of catalysis.”

Catalytic fuels synthesis unit converts syngas to liquid fuels such as methanol and mixed alcohols, and at right, NREL’€™s molecular beam mass spectrometer analyzes vapors during the gasification and pyrolysis processes.

“It’s a way of leveraging the expertise of two organizations to solve a pressing national and international problem,” NREL senior project leader for partnership development Rich Bolin said in a release.

The goal is to improve vapor phase upgrading during the biomass pyrolysis process to lower costs and speed production of lignocellulose-based fuels. Work will be conducted as a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement between the two organizations. NREL already has 184 active CRADAs with industry, the most of any national laboratory.

‘A Meeting of Heavyweights’

“Combining Johnson Matthey’s understanding of catalysis with NREL’s biomass processing capabilities will help accelerate the development of more economic routes to biofuels,” Johnson Matthey new technologies business development director Andrew Heavers says in the DoE-NREL announcement.

But will they fly on garbage?

“It’s a meeting of heavyweights,” DoE says.

Johnson Matthey, DoE says, is one of the world’s leading suppliers of catalysts and process technologies, with facilities in more than 32 countries. The company will supply and develop innovative new catalytic materials to upgrade pyrolysis vapor to biofuel components.

NREL will do the testing, from bench to pilot scale.

“The goal is to find catalytic systems that can produce biofuels cost effectively at scale,” said Mark Nimlos, NREL’s research supervisor for molecular sciences and the principal investigator in the new cellulosic CRADA. Non-food feedstocks will vary from fast-growing poplar or pine trees to switchgrass, forest and agriculture residue and municipal solid waste.

“It will not include anything that is actually food for humans,” NREL says.

$3 Per Gallon Would Mean Easier Financing

“We’ll scale up the equipment, while Johnson Matthey develops and scales up the catalysts,” Nimlos said.

“The best outcome would be, in five years, to have a new catalytic process which can make gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel at a price range that is better than, or competitive with, the cost of existing fuels.”

If that happens, says the lab, “industry would face less risk in getting the financing necessary to scale up biofuels technologies, and the industry will move closer to producing hydrocarbon fuels from biomass for about $3 per gallon, which is a 2017 DoE goal.”

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Source: NREL release with Fleets & Fuels follow-up

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