What is the context of this research?
In the United States, currently about 7% of gasoline and diesel is being replaced with biofuels, mainly bio-ethanol. The usage of bioethanol is supposed to be leading the US towards a more secure and stable economy by reducing our heavy dependency on crude oil imports. However, due to the fact that the bioethanol production process is still in its infancy, the cost of bioethanol is higher than gasoline and diesel. Furthermore, bio-ethanol has lower energy content than gasoline, which leads to the actual cost of bioethanol being even higher considering the energy density per gallon. At the end of the day, when we try to make our economy more sustainable by domestically producing transportation fuels from sustainable sources, more money instead of less is spent on fuels.
What is the significance of this project?
We are developing a technology at University of South Carolina to efficiently produce high energy content biogasoline/biodiesel (long-chain hydrocarbons instead of bio-ethanol). By engineering nanomaterials at the core of the biomass-to-biofuel conversion process, a novel multifunctional catalyst technology has been developed in our lab. This multifunctional catalyst allows several sequential reactions to take place in one single reactor. This not only promotes the production rate of the biofuel, but also eliminates energy-intensive separation and distillation processes that are required in conventional multi-step biofuel production. Along with the high efficiency of our biofuel production process, the yield of hydrocarbon biofuels is above >90%, based on carbon input and output.
What are the goals of the project?
The catalyst and optimal operating conditions will be further optimized for large scale industrial chemical plants. The main focus of the research will be increasing the lifetime of the catalyst. There are many variables that must be explored, including the chemical and physical structures of the catalyst, the reaction conditions, and the configuration of the reactor. While these steps are of utmost importance for industrial catalyst development, they are less attractive for academic research funding due to the time- and money-consuming stability tests. With your help, we can continue working on this technology to bring it forward to practical application. We believe this technology can greatly contribute to the needed change in biofuel production.