Advanced biofuel tech pathway debate over: NABC selects winning 2

| August 15, 2011

One year after starting a research effort to compare six different drop-in biofuels technology pathways for their near-term promise and deployment probability, the National Advanced Biofuels Consortium has announced that two of the six pathways have been chosen for further funding and research efforts. The pathways chosen for stage II of the research effort should come as no surprise to the industry as probable pathways to near-term use. The fermentation of lignocellulosic sugars, a technology used most notably by Amyris, a technology that converts biomass into sugars using engineered microbes for use in renewable diesel or biobased chemicals, was chosen along with the catalysis of lignocellulosic sugars, a pathway that also converts biomass into sugars using a chemical catalysis process, most notably used by Virent.

The research effort initially started in August 2010 and focused on the technical and economic hurdles each technology pathway presented. Along with the two winning pathways, the NABC also looked at catalytic fast pyrolysis, hydropyrolysis, hydrothermal liquefaction and syngas to distillates. “Over the first year,” the NABC said in the official announcement of the two winning pathways, “the NABC performed feasibility studies to determine which of the six approaches would move onto the next stage.”

John Holladay, chief technology officer for the NABC and Tom Faust, the principal investigator and consortium director for the NABC, led the research efforts, coordinating the parameters of the feasibility studies and the protocols for studying and testing each pathway. The two winning pathways will now be further tested by the NABC team, with a goal of creating a pilot-ready facility for each over the next two years. The U.S. DOE, which funded the NABC, will provide an additional $26 million for the research, in addition to another $12 million in cost share.

In June, Biorefining Magazine spoke with both Faust and Holladay on the status of the research. At the time, both inferred that although a few of the pathways were showing real promise, there was a chance that more than two pathways would pass the feasibility guidelines and earn the right for further research and development efforts by the team at NABC. Those statements seemed to have come true, as the NABC also announced that two additional technology pathways “have demonstrated considerable promise for achieving drop-in biofuels but were missing key data to fully complete the feasibility study.” Because of the lack of information needed to make a definitive up or down decision on the technologies, the NABC said that catalytic fast pyrolysis and hydrothermal liquefaction will be granted another three months “to generate data,” all to allow the NABC to determine if either technology pathway should be added to the other two.

In addition to work at both the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, the NABC was joined in its efforts by several other private and public partners including companies like BP and UOP.

For more information on the NABC’s first year of research on the project, click here.