New Bio-fuel Conversion Technology Has Energy Efficiency Mechanism

First Posted: Nov 03, 2015 01:58 PM EST

Researchers have developed a new technology that converts bio-based ethanol into hydrocarbon bend-stocks, which can be used as fossil fuels, according to a study from the Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

"For 40 years, everyone thought that these reactions must go first from ethanol to ethylene, and then from there it forms longer chains. We were able to show that it's not how this occurs," said Brian Davison, co-author of the study, in a news release.

Researchers have experimented with a type of catalysts called zeolites, which convert ethanol into high-grade hydrocarbons. Catalysts are substances that speed up reactions.

While the researchers were working on their new zeolite-based conversion technology, they came across different reactions than usual. The researchers found that an energy-producing "hydrocarbon pool" mechanism enables zeolite catalysts to create longer chains of hydrocarbons from original alcohols.

"It challenges a long-held but incorrect assumption," said Chaitanya Narula, co-author of the study. "It has been assumed that you must go from ethanol to ethylene, which is endothermic and requires energy. We showed this step doesn't occur, and that the overall reaction is slightly exothermic."

This new research creates room for improving energy efficiency and cost of catalytic upgrading technologies in bio-refineries. Now, there is a new and efficient method for converting biofuel directly to hydrocarbon, according to the researchers.

"Our method of direct conversion of ethanol offers a pathway to produce suitable hydrocarbon blend-stock that may be blended at a refinery to yield fuels such as gasoline, diesel and jet fuel or commodity chemicals," Narula said.

The researchers are working commercializing their new technology.

This study was published in Scientific Reports.

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