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Bio-based Product Research

Biomass to Clean Fuels

Pacific Northwest National Laboratory has been involved in process development for clean fuels from biomass for over a quarter of a century, since shortly after the first Arab oil embargo of the 1970s. The research has involved primarily thermochemical processing systems. Processes for both gaseous and liquid fuels have been developed. Process experimentation has been performed at laboratory scale and at larger scale in engineering process development units. The research can be categorized into four areas:

  • Liquid Fuels from Biomass by Pyrolytic Methods - Process optimization in high-pressure biomass liquefaction at the bench scale led to development of a leading expertise in bio-oil chemical analysis. Upgrading of bio-oil to transportation fuels required development of catalytic hydrotreating capabilities resulting in bench-scale production of gasoline from wood oils. Adaptation of the analytical and hydrotreating expertise to flash pyrolysis oil from biomass was a major contribution to developments in the field of biofuels.
    Details: Liquid Fuels By Low-Severity Hydrotreating of Biocrude (.pdf, 245Kb)
    Details: Liquid Hydrocarbon Fuels from Biomass (.pdf, 137Kb)
  • Catalytic Steam Gasification of Biomass - Process development and optimization of steam gasification of biomass was pursued in both the laboratory and in engineering development units. Catalytic processing in a fluidized bed was developed for a range of gas products from low to medium Btu fuel gases to various compositions of synthesis gas for production of, for example, methanol or ammonia. Development of catalyst systems for use in secondary tar cracking beds was also investigated.
  • Wet Biomass Gasification - The use of catalysts in steam gasification of biomass led to the development of a low-temperature gasification of wet biomass in high-pressure liquid water. Development of catalyst formulations, which can withstand this processing environment, has been a key issue in the research. In the process, the biomass reacts with water in the presence of the catalyst to produce a gas product of primarily methane and carbon dioxide. Process development has been undertaken both at bench-scale and in an engineering development unit.
    Details: Chemical Processing in High-Pressure Aqueous Environments. 7. Process Development for Catalytic Gasification of Wet Biomass Feedstocks (.pdf, 599Kb)
  • Syngas to Liquid Fuels - Catalytic systems are being evaluated for the conversion of biomass-derived synthesis gas (hydrogen and carbon monoxide) to liquid fuel components for use as transportation fuels to augment petroleum use. Development of engineered catalyst systems to derive maximum benefit from the inherent properties of biomass is the key to the production of economic processes.

United States Patents:

Catalytic steam gasification process for biomass at near atmospheric pressure with a method of maintaining active nickel metal catalyst useful in cracking byproduct tar.

  • LK Mudge, MD Brown, WA Wilcox, and EG Baker; #4,865,625.

Wet biomass gasification process using nickel metal catalyst with alkali cocatalyst in a pressurized liquid water reaction environment.

  • LJ Sealock, Jr. and DC Elliott; #5,019,135

A wet biomass gasification process using ruthenium metal catalyst in a pressurized liquid water reaction environment.

  • DC Elliott, LJ Sealock, Jr., and EG Baker; #5,616,154.

Improved catalyst formulations for use in wet biomass gasification:

ruthenium stabilized nickel metal

  • DC Elliott and LJ Sealock, Jr.; #5,814,112

copper, silver, rhenium or tin stabilized nickel metal catalyst formulation

  • DC Elliott and TR Hart; #5,977,013

copper, silver, rhenium or tin stabilized nickel metal catalyst utilization

  • DC Elliott and TR Hart; #6,152,975

ruthenium metal on the rutile form of titania

  • DC Elliott, Werpy, T. A., Y Wang, and JG Frye, Jr.; #6,235,797.

Catalytic hydrogenation process for biomass flash pyrolysis oils to stabilize their composition for further processing or use

  • DC Elliott and EG Baker; #4,795,841.

Two-step catalytic hydrotreating process to produce higher octane gasoline by preserving the aromatic content in bio-oil

  • EG Baker and DC Elliott; #5,180,868.

Bio-based Product Research

PNNL Information