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Micro-Scale to Bench-Scale Pyrolysis and Gasification

NREL technician works on catalytic fast pyrolysis oil production research.

Improving product yields and reducing conversion costs through efficient catalytic upgrading of synthesis gas, synthesis gas-derived intermediates, and pyrolysis products


For the thermochemical conversion of biomass by either pyrolysis or gasification, the overall process economics depend heavily upon carbon efficiency and product yield. Our ChemCatBio research team has dedicated more than a decade to improving the efficiency and yield of pyrolysis and gasification as well as subsequent catalytic upgrading steps. Specifically, our research focuses on in situ and ex situ catalytic fast pyrolysis, hydrotreatment of pyrolysis oils, production of alcohols and olefins directly from synthesis gas, and catalytic upgrading of synthesis gas-derived intermediates such as methanol, dimethyl ether, and ethanol. To enable our research in this area, we leverage reactor systems ranging from the micro scale to the pilot scale, including:

  • A dual micropyrolyzer coupled to a gas chromatograph equipped with a mass spectrometer for quantifying condensable vapors and light gases produced during biomass pyrolysis and catalytic fast pyrolysis
  • The Fuel Synthesis Catalysis Lab, which houses six fixed-bed bench-scale fully automated catalytic reactor systems with online product analysis. These reactors can be operated simultaneously and can accept gas, liquid, and solid feeds
  • A fully integrated gasification, reforming, and acid gas removal system that operates at solid biomass feed rates between 0.5 – 1.5 kg/h and has online process gas analysis
  • A fully automated 2-inch internal diameter fluidized bed reactor system with a three-stage condensation train used to produce raw and catalytically upgraded fast pyrolysis oils. Biomass can be fed at rates up to 0.5 kg/h, and solid, liquid, and gaseous products are collected and analyzed, achieving material and carbon balances greater than 95%.

These systems provide evaluation of catalytic materials from mg to kg scale under realistic operating conditions, providing feedback to guide further improvements in catalyst performance.

Additional Information:

Thermochemical Process Integration, Scale-Up, and Piloting R&D at National Renewable Energy Laboratory

Fuel Synthesis Catalysis Laboratory at National Renewable Energy Laboratory

Heterogeneous Catalysis for Thermochemical Conversion R&D at National Renewable Energy Laboratory

National Laboratories:

National Renewable Energy Laboratory
Pacific Northwest National Laboratory

Leverage our capabilities and expertise in this area.