The U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Bioenergy Technologies Office (BETO) announces the launch of its Chemical Catalysis for Bioenergy Consortium (ChemCatBio), a research and development consortium dedicated to identifying and overcoming catalysis challenges for biomass conversion processes. Made up of seven DOE national laboratories, ChemCatBio will bring new catalytic materials to commercial bioenergy applications at least two times faster and at half the cost, enabling an enduring bioenergy technologies industry. The consortium will leverage capabilities unique to DOE’s national laboratories to accelerate the development of catalysts and related technologies for the commercialization of biomass-derived fuels and chemicals—leading to enhanced energy security and national leadership in the global bioeconomy.

Bringing catalysts to market quicker will assist BETO in reaching its goal of reducing the cost and improving the performance of hydrocarbon biofuels. One of the major cost contributors to the price of a gallon of hydrocarbon biofuel is the cost of catalytic materials—up to 20% of the cost per gasoline gallon equivalent of hydrocarbon biofuel. There are unique challenges to developing catalysts for bioenergy applications due to the unique qualities of biomass (e.g., high oxygen content, high moisture content, highly acidic), and many materials developed for the petroleum industry do not translate to bioenergy applications. Supporting the development of new catalytic materials is just one of the ways that BETO is paving the way toward a sustainable domestic bioeconomy. 

The launch of ChemCatBio will facilitate industry access to national laboratory capabilities and accelerate the development of catalytic materials for advancing the biofuels and bioproducts industries. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) will co-lead the consortium and will be responsible for identifying the existing catalysis and bioenergy technology capabilities within the national laboratory system, developing and implementing a mechanism to support industry access to the network, and producing an interface and infrastructure to host and share public access data and code developed within the network. The other national laboratories that are part of the effort include Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Los Alamos National Laboratory, Argonne National Laboratory, Sandia National Laboratories, and Idaho National Laboratory.

Since its launch at the beginning of fiscal year 2017, ChemCatBio has already begun to make strides toward its goals. By leveraging computational modeling and materials synthesis and characterization capabilities at the national laboratories, researchers have designed new multi-functional catalysts that enable carbon-efficient conversion, resulting in cost reductions of greater than $0.5/gallon. Additionally, the consortium has commissioned a new catalytic biofuels demonstration-scale system at PNNL to be used to produce renewable gasoline and diesel fuel blends for automotive engine testing.

ChemCatBio falls under the umbrella of the Energy Materials Network, a DOE and national laboratory initiative focused on bringing high-performance materials for clean energy technologies to market faster. ChemCatBio is part of BETO’s Conversion Research and Development Program, which funds projects to develop technologies for converting biomass feedstocks into viable biofuels and bioproducts, moving toward an economically competitive and environmentally sustainable bioeconomy. Projects in the BETO portfolio, including those that are a part of ChemCatBio, will be presented to the public and reviewed by subject matter experts at the upcoming BETO Project Peer Review on March 6–9, 2017, in Denver, Colorado.