DOE funds bio-oil stabilization projects

By Erin Voegele
In early October, the U.S. DOE announced it had awarded up to $7 million in funding to U.S. research organizations and institutions of higher education to support research and development of the stabilization of biomass fast-pyrolysis oils. The funding serves to support the goals established in the Energy Independence & Security Act of 2007 for advanced biofuels and DOE production targets.

Biomass pyrolysis oil, commonly referred to as bio-oil, is made from second-generation feedstocks such as agricultural and forestry residuals. The DOE defined the act of stabilizing bio-oil to include removing char, lowering the oxygen content, and reducing the acidity of pyrolysis oil because it's naturally corrosive, unstable and difficult to transport. When the stabilization of bio-oil is successful, it could be used at petroleum refineries as a feedstock that is greenhouse-gas-neutral, renewable and domestically produced.

Five funding recipients have been selected to date, including Illinois-based UOP LLC, a Honeywell International Inc. subsidiary that has partnered with Ensyn Corp., the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Pall Corp., and the USDA Agricultural Research Service's Crop Conversion Science and Engineering Research Unit. The group's project is centered on the development of a commercialized next-generation technology to refine bio-oil for use in power generation, as a heating fuel and eventually as a transportation fuel.

North Carolina-based research institute RTI International will also receive funding for its proposal that primarily aims to develop highly active and stable catalysts for the stabilization of bio-oil, potentially resulting in a condensed bio-oil intermediate that has physical and chemical properties adequate for use as liquid transportation fuels in existing petroleum refineries or in standalone, centralized upgrading facilities.

Three universities will also receive funding. Virginia Polytechnic Institute proposed research involving the development of a pyrolysis technology that produces a stable bio-oil, including reactor modeling with computational fluid dynamics on a supercomputer and advanced kinetic analyses for the optimization of bio-oil production. Iowa State University proposed a project to develop practical, cost-effective methods of stabilizing bio-oil for storage under ambient conditions. The University of Massachusetts-Amherst proposed a project to develop economical technologies for the production of stable bio-oil with a low char content and a neutral pH by using a combination of membrane and catalytic technologies.