Production of renewable jet fuel range alkanes and commodity chemicals from integrated catalytic processing of biomass
This article presents results from experimental studies and techno-economic analysis of a catalytic process for the conversion of whole biomass into drop-in aviation fuels with maximal carbon yields. The combined research areas highlighted include biomass pretreatment, carbohydrate hydrolysis and dehydration, and catalytic upgrading of platform chemicals. The technology centers on first producing furfural and levulinic acid from five- and six-carbon sugars present in hardwoods and subsequently upgrading these two platforms into a mixture of branched, linear, and cyclic alkanes of molecular weight ranges appropriate for use in the aviation sector. Maximum selectivities observed in laboratory studies suggest that, with efficient interstage separations and product recovery, hemicellulose sugars can be incorporated into aviation fuels at roughly 80% carbon yield, while carbon yields to aviation fuels from cellulose-based sugars are on the order of 50%. The use of lignocellulose-derived feedstocks rather than commercially sourced model compounds in process integration provided important insights into the effects of impurity carryover and additionally highlights the need for stable catalytic materials for aqueous phase processing, efficient interstage separations, and intensified processing strategies. In its current state, the proposed technology is expected to deliver jet fuel-range liquid hydrocarbons for a minimum selling price of $4.75 per gallon assuming nth commercial plant that produces 38 million gallons liquid fuels per year with a net present value of the 20 year biorefinery set to zero. Future improvements in this technology, including replacing precious metal catalysts by base metal catalysts and improving the recyclability of water streams, can reduce this cost to $2.88 per gallon.