August 11, 2022
Spotlight

Advanced Alcohol-to-Jet Fuel Conversion Technology Available for Commercial License

Development adds to PNNL’s track record of sustainable fuel innovations

tech

N-butene, which is traditionally produced from petroleum-based feedstocks using energy-intensive cracking—or breaking down—of large molecules, can be converted from waste feeds using PNNL’s process.

(Photo by Andrea Starr | Pacific Northwest National Laboratory)

A process converting biomass and waste into a chemical intermediate or into gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel is available for commercial licensing after its development at the Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL).

The latest development improves an earlier PNNL technology that converts ethanol into a chemical called n-butene.

The Department of Energy's Bioenergy Technologies Office (BETO) sponsored both innovations. BETO is developing a sustainable domestic biomass industry that produces renewable biofuels, bioproducts, and biopower. The effort enhances U.S. energy security and reduces dependence on foreign oil.

“PNNL is proud to be on the cutting edge of innovation,” said Allan Tuan, commercialization manager for energy, grid, and advanced fuel research at PNNL. “Our efforts help meet U.S. climate goals, which will require multiple production pathways and feedstocks to meet the significant and growing demand for biofuels, including sustainable aviation fuel.”

N-butene is traditionally produced from petroleum-based feedstocks using energy-intensive cracking—or breaking down—of large molecules.

Researchers have produced n-butene from ethanol for years. Achieving high yields at industrial scale, however, has been challenging and usually requires a costly, multi-step process.

PNNL’s novel catalytic process can make it affordable via a single-step conversion.

PNNL’s new technology can reduce emissions of carbon dioxide by using renewable or recycled carbon feedstocks to derive n-butene as a starting point. Other existing processes can then further refine the chemical for multiple commercial uses, including diesel and jet fuels. The compound can also be the building block for just about every major synthetic plastic or rubber, such as tires, fuel hoses, latex gloves, and more.

PNNL has deep expertise in alcohol-to-jet-fuel conversion, having developed many relevant chemistries and catalysts. One of the most commercially mature pathways from ethanol to jet fuel was developed in collaboration with LanzaTech, an industry leader in sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) that has successfully scaled its process.

BETO continues to work with industry and with national laboratories like PNNL to develop additional novel pathways for producing SAFs from renewable and waste feedstocks that meet strict fuel specifications for use in airplanes and infrastructure. This current ethanol-to-n-butene conversion technology is but an example, one that is available for licensing.

“PNNL offers technologies on a competitive basis to potential industry partners with the goal of improving the availability of clean energy and providing taxpayers the maximum return on impact,” said Christina Lomasney, director of commercialization at PNNL. “Once we have selected licensing partners, PNNL collaborates closely with them to support and improve the success of their market offering.”

PNNL has a successful record partnering with U.S. industry to bring technologies to market. From the first optical disc recorder technology to the millimeter-wave technologies used to enhance traveler safety in airports all over the world, PNNL is both a pioneer in discovery and in partnership-based market deployment of scientific research.

Catalysis and bioenergy research are two facets of PNNL’s historical strengths in decarbonization. PNNL is the home of the Energy Sciences Center, where PNNL researchers, their industry counterparts, and partners at the University of Washington, Washington State University, and other major institutions in the United States and abroad will work together to accelerate scientific discovery in chemistry, materials science, and computing toward the goal of advancing energy technology development.

For more information about these technologies and available licenses, please visit https://www.pnnl.gov/available-technologies or email inventions@pnnl.gov and reference Battelle IPIDs 32204-E and 31265-E.