Lab Discovery: Water Leads to Chemical that “Gunks Up” Biofuels Production

November 20, 2014

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90 Seconds of Discovery: Why Bio-Oil Turns to Gunk

In this episode of 90 Seconds of Discovery, Catalysis Scientist Robert Weber explains why bio-oil often gunks up during refining. Knowledge gained from this research could improve methods for refining biofuel.

Researchers at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) have determined that water—a prevalent component of biofuel conversion processes—turns the pyrolysis oil component, phenol, into a highly reactive molecular structure that polymerizes, or “gunks up” the conversion process, thereby slowing down  key chemical reactions. 
The PNNL study provides a thorough look at phenol and reactions in the liquid phase of catalytic biomass conversion, results which apply not only to water but to other liquids, such as alcohols and certain acids. PNNL researchers plan to use this work to improve methods for refining biofuels. Read the PNNL press release for more information about the research findings and their relevance. 
This research is part of the Bioenergy Technologies Office’s (BETO’s) Computational Pyrolysis Consortium, a multi-lab effort, with an industrial advisory board, that is helping lead BETO towards its “drop-in” hydrocarbon biofuel conversion cost targets of $2.50/ gallon gasoline equivalent (gge) via a thermochemical conversion pathway and $3.30/gge via a biochemical conversion pathway by 2017. 
Pacific Northwest National Laboratory is one of eleven Energy Department national laboratories that receive BETO funding to conduct work in bioenergy.