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Thermochemical Conversion

The Bioenergy Technologies Office conducts research on heat-, pressure-, and catalyst-based conversion of various biomass feedstocks to biofuels, chemicals, and power. These conversion processes, most notably fast pyrolysis (as well as other forms of direct liquefaction) and gasification, are described in detail in the links on the left.

The Thermochemical Platform aims to efficiently produce biobased fuels and co-products via liquefaction and pyrolysis, followed by upgrading of  bio-oils and gaseous intermediates, respectively (for more information, view the thermochemical processes page). The platform aligns its research and development (R&D) with the Office's goals, which include using stand-alone thermochemical conversion systems and integrating efficient, complementary thermochemical conversion technology into a model biorefinery.

Feedstocks for thermochemical processes include a wide variety of biomass types,  including woody feedstocks, herbaceous and agricultural residues, and energy crops. Feedstock restrictions for thermochemical conversion mostly pertain to particle size, moisture, and ash content.

For more information on thermochemical conversion, see the Thermochemical Conversion: Using Heat and Chemistry to Make Fuels and Bioproducts.

Bio-Oil Stabilization and Commoditization (BOSC) Funding Opportunity

In April 2012, the Bioenergy Technologies Office announced a funding opportunity announcement (FOA) to support production of stable bio-oils from lignocellulosic and algal biomass sources for blending within petroleum refineries to produce fungible transportation fuels with a renewable component. The FOA targeted two topic areas: (1) Designed to target R&D for establishing "proof of concept" bio-oil production systems with the objective of engaging a refinery partner by the end of the 1-year project period for bio-oil quality testing, and (2) Tailored for technology providers with an R&D plan and refinery partner at the onset with the goal of "process validation" at an engineering-relevant scale. The key differences between Area 1 and Area 2 are technology readiness and refinery partner involvement. All applicants submitted a life-cycle assessment (LCA) to show they meet greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reduction requirements for an "advanced biofuel" in the Renewable Fuel Standard. At the end of their project, awardees will submit a completed techno-economic assessment and an updated LCA. The projects selected for award on August 15, 2012, are as follows:

Selected BOSC Topic Area 1 Awardees
  • Southern Research Institute (Durham, NC), up to $654,330, "Mild Biomass Liquefaction Process for Economic Production of Stabilized Refinery-Ready Bio-Oils:" The objective of the project is to research and develop a cost‐effective, low-severity thermal liquefaction process to convert woody biomass to stabilized bio‐oils that can be directly blended with hydrotreater and hydrocracker input streams in a petroleum refinery for production of gasoline-range and diesel-range hydrocarbons.
  • Stevens Institute of Technology (Hoboken, NJ), up to $651,194, "Pt-based Bi-metallic Monolith Catalysts for Partial Upgrading of Microalgae Oil:" The proposed transformative technology for the conversion of microalgae to an algal oil feedstock suitable for insertion as a middle distillate feed stream into the hydrotreatment unit of a petroleum refinery to produce green diesel combines a proprietary (patent pending) algal oil preprocessing platform with innovative reactor concepts and catalyst development for first-stage partial upgrading of the pre-refined algal oils via hydrodeoxygenation.
  • Idaho National Laboratory (Idaho Fall, ID), up to $749,991, "Bio-Oil Separation and Stabilization by Supercritical Fluid Fractionation:" The objective of this project is to separate and fractionate algal-based pyrolysis oils using supercritical fluids into stable products that can be upgraded to produce drop-in renewable fuels. The expected outcome of this project will be an economical, field-deployable, supercritical extraction and fractionation process that enables bio-oils to be stabilized and commoditized.
  • Sapphire Energy (San Diego, CA), up to $564,862, "Optimized Co-processing of Algal Bio-Crude Through a Petroleum Refinery:" In order to demonstrate to refinery partners that algal bio-crude can be dropped directly into refineries at the distillate hydrotreater; hydrotreating and fluidized catalytic cracking; or hydrocracking stages, Sapphire will validate and expand promising lab-scale tests of algal bio-crude quality to pilot-scale. The project will study scaling-up production and upgrading of Sapphire's bio-crude, including thermal treatment and catalyst selection, and obtain yield, quality, and composition metrics for sharing with a refinery partner. The work proposed is critical for bringing algal-based finished fuels, which have the potential for meeting the Renewable Fuel Standard's petroleum-replacement requirements, to market.
  • Iowa State University (ISU) (Ames, IA), up to $750,000, "Stabilization of Bio-Oil Fractions for Insertion into Petroleum Refineries:" The goal of this project is to develop pyrolysis intermediates suitable as feedstocks for upgrading in a petroleum refinery to hydrocarbon fuels at insertion points downstream of distillation and vacuum distillation operations. This will be accomplished through recovery of bio-oil as four distinct fractions followed by stabilization through catalytic upgrading processes customized to the physical and chemical properties of each fraction.
  • University of Georgia (Athens, GA), up to $531,897, "Development of Bio-oil Commodity Fuel as a Refinery Feedstock from High-Impact Algae Biomass:" This project will develop algal bio-oil as a refinery feedstock from algae biomass. The project will evaluate a two-stage thermochemical liquefaction (TCL) process to produce low-nitrogen algal bio-oil, upgrade the TCL bio-oil by hydrodeoxygenation, catalytically co-process the upgraded oil with a refinery stream, and finally characterize the product(s) to access viability as refinery feedstock. The anticipated outcome is a refinery feedstock in the form of a bio-oil generated from an algae feedstock. Additionally, recycling nitrogen and potassium from the first-stage TCL processing will improve economics for the integrated algae-biorefinery and petroleum refinery process.
Selected BOSC Topic Area 2 Awardees
  • Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) (Richland, WA), up to $4,000,000, "Optimizing Co-Processing of Bio-Oil in Refinery Unit Operations Using a Davison Circulating Riser:" W.R. Grace, a leading provider of refining technology, and PNNL are co-leading an effort to accelerate the development technologies employing the use of fast pyrolysis oil in petroleum refineries to produce gasoline-range and diesel-range hydrocarbon fuels.
  • Gas Technology Institute (GTI) (Des Plaines, IL), up to $3,231,386, "Refinery Upgrading of Hydropyrolysis Oil from Biomass:" The overall goal of this project is to develop a cost-effective route for biomass to transportation fuels by first converting biomass to hydropyrolysis oil and then upgrading the hydropyrolysis oil in a petroleum oil refinery using existing refinery equipment. This will be accomplished by working closely with a major U.S. petroleum refiner (Valero).