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Bio-based Product Research

Novel Catalyst Research and Chemical Transformations

PNNL is developing new catalyst formulations and demonstrating their utility in new chemical transformations for production of bio-based chemicals. Novel high-activity catalysts for hydrogenation and oxidation in condensed phase conditions use noble metals and stabilized base metals for catalysis. Also under development at PNNL are stable catalyst support materials including metal oxides and carbons for aqueous phase processing. Other chemical transformations utilize the structures derived from biomass feedstocks to produce new chemical products.

Applications of PNNL chemical process developments include:

  • Catalytic hydrogenation of organic acids to monomers, esters, and solvents
  • Catalytic hydrogenation of sugars to produce monomers and esters
  • Chemical transformations of organic acids and derivatives to monomers and solvents
  • Catalytic oxidation of oils to produce monomers, esters, and epoxides.

Our capabilities include catalyst formulation and synthesis including a high-throughput combinatorial catalysis system. Our synthetic methods include metal deposition on both carbon and metal oxide support materials. In addition, we have carbon support modification expertise and special metal oxide material synthesis technology. We support our synthetic effort with a catalyst material analysis capability, such as surface area measurement, pore size distribution, elemental composition, surface contamination chemical analysis with electron microscopy and x-ray methods, and temperature-programmed reduction.

A recent addition to our laboratory is a parallel processing catalytic reactor for high-throughput catalyst testing. The CombiCat system was produced by Symyx Technologies, Inc.™ and is a state-of-the-art unit with first of its kind capabilities. The system includes robots forcatalytic synthesis and product analysis. It has an agitated reactor for testing up to 384 catalysts at a time at up to 200°C and 100 atm pressure. With this system we can quickly test catalytic systems at real processing conditions for aqueous phase catalysis for bioproducts.

Our catalyst testing capabilities include a range of pressurized reactor systems from small batch reactors for initial catalyst activity assessment and chemical mechanism elucidation to lab-scale continuous reactors for catalyst lifetime assessment and process engineering, to bench-scale and pilot scale processing systems to evaluate scale-up effects.

United States Patents

A process for catalytic hydrogenation of levulinic acid to produce a range of intermediate chemicals and the final product, 2-methyltetrahydrofuran

  • DC Elliott and JG Frye, Jr.; #5,883,266.

Ester compounds and their use in forming acrylates

  • TA Werpy and MA Lilga; #6,545,175.

Methods of making pyrrolidones

  • TA Werpy, JG Frye, Jr., Y Wang, and AH Zacher; #6,603,021
  • TA Werpy, JG Frye, Jr., Y Wang, and AH Zacher; #6,706,893
  • TA Werpy, JG Frye, Jr., Y Wang, and AH Zacher; #6,670,483
  • TA Werpy, JG Frye, Jr., Y Wang, and AH Zacher; #6,632,951

A process for hydrogenolysis of higher molecular weight polyols to lower molecular weight polyols using a base-promoted ruthenium catalyst.

  • TA Werpy, JG Frye, Jr., AH Zacher, et al.; #6,291,725

A thermocatalytic process for production of acrylate esters from fermentation lactic acid

  • PC Walkup, CA Rohrmann, RT Hallen, and DE Eakin; #5,071,754
  • PC Walkup, CA Rohrmann, RT Hallen, and DE Eakin; #5,252,473

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

Catalysts for aqueous phase hydrogenations useful for sugars, alcohols, carboxylic acids

ruthenium stabilized nickel metal

  • DC DC Elliott. and Sealock, L. J., Jr. #5,814,112

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

  • DC Elliott. and Hart, T. R. #5,977,013
  • DC Elliott. and Hart, T. R. #6,152,975

ruthenium metal on the rutile form of titania

  • DC Elliott. TA Werpy, Y Wang, and JG Frye, Jr.; #6,235,797
  • DC Elliott, TA Werpy, Y Wang, and JG Frye, Jr.; #6,570,043

textured catalysts

  • TA Werpy, JG Frye, Jr., Y Wang, AH Zacher; #6,670,300

Hydrogenolysis of 5-Carbon Sugars, Sugar Alcohols, and Other Methods and Compositions for Reactions Involving Hydrogen

  • TA Werpy, JG Frye, Jr., AH Zacher, and DJ Miller; #6,479,713
  • TA Werpy, JG Frye, Jr., AH Zacher, and DJ Miller; #6,677,385

Bio-based Product Research

PNNL Information