Sustainable Green Diesel Production: Upgrading Biomass Waste Pyrolysis Oil

Period of Performance: 01/01/2012 - 12/31/2012


Phase 1 SBIR

Recipient Firm

TDA Research, Inc.
12345 W. 52nd Ave. Array
Wheat Ridge, CO 80033
Firm POC
Principal Investigator


The explosive growth of biofuels in recent years has shown that there is great potential for biomass to be a raw material for the production of transportation fuels. Possibly the most economical means to produce biofuels is by the liquification of biomass (fast pyrolysis) and subsequent upgrading. This method is also potentially the most sustainable, provided the feedstock is produced sustainably. Fortunately there are large quantities of waste biomass materials available. What we need is new technology to cost-effectively upgrade the pyrolysis oil to high value fuels such as diesel. Middle distillate fuels such as diesel and aviation fuel are necessary to meet the needs of large-scale transportation, heavy equipment such as shipping and aviation. Thus, diesel fuel will be in demand for the foreseeable future. What is unclear is how much diesel fuel can be produced from renewable sources. Diesel fuel is comprised of molecules that have more carbon atoms than gasoline or ethanol. Therefore diesel is more difficult to produce from the monomers of the molecules typically found in biomass - proteins, cellulosics, starches, carbohydrates, etc., which are made of C3 to C6 segments. Thus, converting general biomass to diesel fuel is the most technologically challenging synthesis route, but also the most potentially profitable because diesel is more valuable than other fuels. Any rational approach to converting biomass waste to fuels involves minimizing the distance that low-density biomass materials must be transported to the conversion site. In this project we will address the need to minimize the travel distances by developing a small-scale process that can be located anywhere there is waste biomass. It will not rely on existing petrochemical refining infrastructure (aside from existing fuel terminals where the biofuel enters the distribution network). TDA proposes to develop a biomass-to-diesel process that combines the fast pyrolysis of any biomass or other waste source of oxygenated hydrocarbons followed by upgrading of the bio-oil intermediate to middle distillate equivalents. The key technological innovations that will make this process attractive are: (#1) using essentially 100% of almost any type of biomass or waste product; (#2) developing novel chemical conversion routes that allow for much lower temperatures and pressures to be used, thus reducing energy input needs, improving the safety of the process, and simplifying it; (#3) combining novel chemical conversion pathways that will allow us to both upgrade (increase the molecular weight) the biomass-derived oil and deoxygenate it; (#4) producing a fuel product that is fungible with ULSD (ultra low sulfur diesel).