Exxon Mobil announced a two-year renewal of an agreement with the University of Wisconsin-Madison to research the fundamental chemistry of converting biomass into transportation fuels.
Irving/USA — The project builds on the university’s expertise in biomass conversion. George Huber, the Harvey D. Spangler professor of chemical and biological engineering at UW-Madison, is working closely with Exxon Mobil’s scientists to build a stronger understanding of the basic chemical transformations that occur during biomass conversion into diesel and jet fuels.
Over the past two years, research has focused on a multistep approach for converting cellulosic biomass to transportation fuels. A new approach with the potential to reduce the number of processing steps will be explored in this collaboration, the company announced, adding that this approach using solvents could potentially dissolve the entire biomass. This might make it possible to convert the whole biomass into fuel-sized molecules in a single reactor.
Another potential process that will be studied in this collaboration involves the catalytic transformation of bio-derived ethanol into bio-derived diesel and jet fuel. Ethanol is currently produced from a range of sources and is widely used as an additive to gasoline. According to the company, this technology could potentially allow larger diesel and jet fuel molecules to be produced from renewable sources. Our research continues to focus on non-food sources like corn stover and other cellulosic feedstocks.
“Biofuels have the potential to become a significant option for meeting growing global demand for diesel and jet fuel if low cost and scalable technologies can be developed,” says Professor Huber. “The focus of this fundamental research is to demonstrate technologies that could make such a scenario possible. We expect to use the same type of catalytic technologies that are already used in the petrochemical industry to convert oil into fuels and chemicals.”
The work with UW-Madison is a recent addition in a series of partnerships the company has established with universities around the world as part of its ongoing research into early-stage innovative projects. Further projects include joint research collaborations focused on algae-based biofuels with Synthetic Genomics, Colorado School of Mines and Michigan State. The company is also exploring a variety of biomass-to-fuels conversion processes, which could be used with non-food based feedstocks such as cellulose-derived sugars, in collaboration with Reg Life Sciences, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Renewable Energy Group.