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Crop Biotech Update

Thermal Deoxygenation of Cellulosic Biomass for Catalyst-free Conversion to Bio-based Hydrocarbon Fuel

October 28, 2011

Researchers from the University of Maine (United States) are reportedly using a new, catalyst-free, and hydrogen-free,thermochemical route for the production of hydrocarbon-like based biofuels from cellulosic biomass. According the University of Maine website news release, the process,known as "thermal deoxygenation (TDO)", can convert biomass residues into a hydrocarbon mixture with boiling points "that encompass those of jet fuel, diesel, and gasoline". Analysis of the product indicated that it could have fuel properties which make it a "drop-in fuel"; this means that the product can be used with little or no refining.

In the TDO process, the biomass is first converted to organic acids. Then, the acids are added with calcium hydroxide to form a calcium salt, and the reaction mixture is heated to 450 oC. The process "deoxygenates" (or removes the oxygen) from the biomass, and the resulting product is a dark amber-colored oil with a high energy density (higher fuel heating value) than the original biomass. An interesting feature of the process is that is does not require the use of a catalyst nor hydrogen for the conversion of the material into a hydrocarbon mixture. This can help a great deal to reduce the production cost. According to University of Maine news release, "further refinement to meet emissions standards would be needed in order to use the ‘UMaine oil' in vehicles that drive on public ways, but [senior researcher, Clayton Wheeler] believes the oil can be refined as simply as any other current oil at a standard refinery".

Related information:

University of Maine video describing the new biofuel production process and research reference