Middle Distillate Fuels From Ethanol
ChemCatBio 2022 Technology Brief
This ChemCatBio study bridges biomass and carbon dioxide (CO2) utilization for the production of middle distillate fuels and longer-chain products with ethanol as a critical intermediate, thus providing the scalability of this approach to help address climate change.
This study demonstrates a cost-competitive approach to make middle distillate fuels from renewable ethanol via innovations in catalysis. A market-responsive biorefinery was conceptualized around this C2 platform, where gasoline, jet, diesel, and chemical coproducts can be produced simultaneously. Researchers employed an integrated approach of combining experiments, techno-economic analysis, and life-cycle analysis to assess the economic and greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reduction potential and identify the major cost drivers to prioritize research and development work.
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Lewis Acid Zeolite Catalysts Enable Enhanced C3+ Selectivity
When catalyzed by Lewis acid zeolites, the pathway for forming carbon-carbon bonds exhibits much higher C3+ olefin selectivity compared to other direct ethanol-to-butene-rich olefin approaches. This is possible because such catalysts minimize ethanol dehydration to ethelyne through a unique active site combination. These catalysts also avoid significant carbon-carbon cleavage and over-hydrogenation of olefins, thereby preventing the formation of CO2 and light paraffins, respectively.
C3+ Olefins Can Be Upgraded to Longer-Chain Hydrocarbons Over Several Solid Acid Catalysts
C3+ olefins obtained from this one-step ethanol conversion process are further oligomerized to longer-chain hydrocarbons over several solid acid catalysts, including Amberlyst-15, Amberlyst-36, and CT275. Findings suggest that gasoline, jet, and diesel cuts can be adjusted by using different oligomerization catalysts.
The Approach for Making Middle Distillate Fuels From Renewable Ethanol Could Have Cost Advantages
Compared to two-step ethanol to butene-rich olefin processes, this one-step approach can reduce ethanol upgrading costs by as much as 42% ($0.60/gasoline gallon equivalent (GGE) vs $1.04/GGE). When using a pure ethanol feed, the baseline ethanol upgrading cost is $0.60/GGE, with capital expenses contributing 27% and operations 73% of the total cost.
The Approach Could Realize Substantial Reductions in Well-to-Wake GHG Emissions
GHG emissions for this pathway largely depend on the type of biomass feestock, yield of liquid hydrocarbons, and ethanol concentrations. Reducing carbon intensity could lead to significant economic incentives for producing renewable hydrocarbon fuels from ethanol given current and pending low-carbon fuels regulations across the United States.
Challenges and Next Steps
Risks and Challenges
Three primary advances are needed to prepare this ethanol-to-SAF production technology for wider commercial adoption:
Integrate all unit operations in series—This allows researchers to analyze the impact of byproducts (and products that do not meet SAF specifications) on downstream conversion
Increase the scale of the reactor—Increasing reactor scale nearly 30 fold—to produce hundreds of milliliters of jet fuel a day from a range of feedstocks—is needed to support fuel specification testing
Prepare for pre-pilot facility—To lower risks for industry, researchers must develop chemistry- and physics-based process models to inform facility scale-up and operations.
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More Sources on This Topic
Isolated Metal Sites in Cu–Zn–Y/Beta for Direct and Selective Butene-Rich C3+ Olefin Formation from Ethanol, ACS Catalysis (2021)
Selective Butene Formation in Direct Ethanol-to-C3+-Olefin Valorization over Zn–Y/Beta and Single-Atom Alloy Composite Catalysts Using In Situ-Generated Hydrogen, ACS Catalysis (2021)
Technoeconomic and Life-Cycle Analysis of Single-Step Catalytic Conversion of Wet Ethanol Into Fungible Fuel Blendstocks, PNAS (2020)
Selective Conversion of Bio-Derived Ethanol to Renewable BTX Over Ga-ZSM-5, Green Chemistry (2017)
Catalytic Conversion of Biomass-Derived Ethanol to Liquid Hydrocarbon Blendstock: Effect of Light Gas Recirculation, Energy & Fuels (2016)