Catalytic routes for the conversion of biomass into liquid hydrocarbon transportation fuels
Concerns about diminishing fossil fuel reserves along with global warming effects caused by increasing levels of CO2 in the atmosphere are driving society toward the search for new renewable sources of energy that can substitute for coal, natural gas and petroleum in the current energy system. Lignocellulosic biomass is abundant, and it has the potential to significantly displace petroleum in the production of fuels for the transportation sector. Ethanol, the main biomass-derived fuel used today, has benefited from production by a well-established technology and by partial compatibility with the current transportation infrastructure, leading to the domination of the world biofuel market. However, ethanol suffers from important limitations as a fuel (e.g., low energy density, high solubility in water) than can be overcome by designing strategies to convert non-edible lignocellulosic biomass into liquid hydrocarbon fuels (LHF) chemically similar to those currently used in internal combustion engines. The present review describes the main routes available to carry out such deep chemical transformation (e.g., gasification, pyrolysis, and aqueous-phase catalytic processing), with particular emphasis on those pathways involving aqueous-phase catalytic reactions. These latter catalytic routes achieve the required transformations in biomass-derived molecules with controlled chemistry and high yields, but require pretreatment/hydrolysis steps to overcome the recalcitrance of lignocellulose. To be economically viable, these aqueous-phase routes should be carried out with a small number of reactors and with minimum utilization of external fossil fuel-based hydrogen sources, as illustrated in the examples presented here.
- This article is part of the themed collection: Biofuels