Chinese technology converts biomass directly to fuel

By Lisa Gibson
Posted August 5, 2009, at 2:20 p.m. CST

Researchers with China-based Ji Zhong Wei New Energy Technical Development Ltd. have discovered a way to convert biomass directly to regular gasoline and diesel, according to the company. The same international standard fuels many of us put in our automobiles every day.

Researchers call their new process "complexogeneous" catalytic thermal decomposition, as it combines aspects of both homogeneous and heterogeneous catalysis. It uses homogeneous catalytic pressure and temperature with the speed of the heterogeneous catalytic process, according to Charles Wang, manager of international offices for the company. "People neglect one important thing: that earth helps to transform biomass to gasoline/diesel 99 percent by using the homogeneous catalytic process and millions of years," Wang said. "Fossil fuel refiners just do 1 percent of the job. In our idea, fossil fuel also is biomass, which is a middle process status between biomass and gasoline/diesel."

The process, dubbed the ‘FM New Petroleum Project' after its inventor, who does not want to be named, uses one stove instead of two to produce fuel with the same chemical components as regular gasoline or diesel. The stove was designed by Ji Zhong Wei Ltd. researchers, according to Wang. It does not require any external gasoline or diesel fuel, as some biodiesel and bio-gasoline companies do, Wang said. It actually takes biomass and converts it directly to regular gasoline or diesel fuel. "That means that this is not a partial replacement for current fuel, it is a complete replacement of it," Wang wrote in a letter. The process also makes gas and biocarbon.

Biomass feedstocks used at model production lines in China include corn stalks, manure, woody biomass, municipal waste and ocean biomass. The two models online now have the capacity to produce at least 5,000 tons of fuel per year, if run 24 hours per day, and the feedstock supply does not compete with the food supply, Wang emphasizes. Its feedstock diversity also presents possible solutions to problems like waste disposal, by making use of feedstocks already available and usually considered waste. "Coupled with American industry, we strongly believe that our technology can be scaled out … by increasing factory sizes," he wrote.

Wang says the new technology has three main benefits: reduce or possibly end dependence on fossil fuels; spur creation of a domestic and new energy bio-industry; and dramatically reduce or end waste and pollution of industry, forest, harvest and human life. "This is a technology that will revolutionize the current petrol industry in America and around the world," Wang wrote.

Tests and production samples show a ratio of 3:1 of biomass to fuel production, meaning that 5,000 tons of gasoline or diesel can be produced from 15,000 tons of biomass, according to Wang.

"To protect the auto industry is the main goal of our technology," Wang wrote. In the long term, it will provide a renewable resource and lower gasoline prices, he said. Second, since the fuels have the same chemical components as regular gasoline and diesel, the auto industry does not have to retrofit its products, he added. The most important aspect is that biomass gasoline and diesel help reduce 90 percent of the pollution caused by fuels produced from fossil fuels, according to Wang. Also standing to benefit are the farm, forest and animal husbandry industries, he added.

The researchers are looking for ways to scale up their process. "Right now, we face some challenges in the United States," Wang said. "Since United States biofuel level is only in the first step … and many U.S. scientists can't believe that Chinese researchers achieved this."