Skip to main content

ChemCatBio: Overcoming Challenges of Converting Biomass into Fuels and Materials via Catalysis

This is the text version for the ChemCatBio: Overcoming Challenges of Converting Biomass into Fuels and Materials via Catalysis video.

>>Josh Schaidle: Recent studies have estimated that on the order of a billion tons of biomass can be renewably sourced every year in the United States. However, we're working with a fairly complex feedstock. And there's a number of challenges associated with taking this complex feedstock and producing fuels, chemicals, and materials. In that space of those challenges, there's a number of catalytic approaches. We've developed through the support of the Department of Energy and the Bioenergy Technologies Office the Chemical Catalysis for Bioenergy Consortium. For short we call that ChemCatBio.

ChemCatBio is made up of eight different national laboratories and that consortium is dedicated solely to identifying and overcoming these catalysis challenges for the conversion of biomass and waste carbon streams into fuels, materials, and chemicals. The central piece to ChemCatBio is accelerating the catalyst and process development cycle. Important to that is bringing together both foundational science and applied engineering. And at that interface exists the primary component in the starting point of this—performance evaluation.

>>Michael Griffin: Within our catalyst testing laboratories we have systems that focus specifically on using model compounds or simple mixtures of reactants. And this allows us to understand the reactivity of catalysts at the molecular level.

>>Carrie Farberow: I use computational modeling combined with experimental reaction kinetics and catalyst characterization data. We try and put all of that information together to understand what characteristics of the catalyst are responsible for controlling the activity and selectivity that's observed. And then we can use that information ideally to identify targeted modifications to a catalyst or new formulations that could help improve the performance.

>>Susan Habas: There are a number of different ways in which we approach material synthesis, both traditional techniques that are used for catalyst preparation such as insipient wetness impregnation followed by a high-temperature reduction. And then we also look at more novel routes to catalytic materials including the solution synthesis of different nanoparticles including metal carbides, metal phosphides, and metal nitrides, as well as metal organic frameworks. As we're developing these new procedures for catalyst synthesis something that we really try to take into account at a very early stage is an understanding of the cost of all the components.

>>Frederick Baddour: When considering new materials that are being generated in a laboratory, translating those directly to large-scale operation is nontrivial. The costs that go into producing these things at larger scale, the type of equipment that you can use is very, very different. And so we've produced a free publicly available tool, the CatCost tool, which allows people with limited engineering experience to go in and produce an estimate for their laboratory materials.

>> Josh Schaidle: That's the type of altruistic work that is uniquely suited for a national lab that is broadly enabling and supports our efforts within ChemCatBio but also more broadly enables an entire community in the catalysis community and the bioenergy community to advance their technologies.

>>Susan Habas: I think one of the really unique parts of ChemCatBio is having all these different components of catalyst development working together. So everything from very fundamental modeling at the atomic scale all the way up to these pilot-scale demonstration efforts in terms of really moving these catalyst materials and biomass processes forward.

>>Calvin Mukarakate: My research efforts focus on evaluating catalyst performance with real biomass feeds. So we conduct experiments at multiple reactor scales ranging from micro scale to industrially relevant bench scale and then finally to pilot-scale systems. We are trying to provide feedback on catalyst performance early on in the development cycle of catalysts. And we are also able to run experiments using biopolymers so that we can make connections with functional groups that we see in those biopolymers with our model compound team.

>> Josh Schaidle: What we're trying to do with ChemCatBio is both advance and accelerate the adoption of bioenergy technologies into the marketplace. And our piece of that is overcoming these catalysis challenges and providing the tools and the capabilities and the expertise to accelerate the catalyst and process development cycle. And I think that's really what drives us every day, day in and day out—it's associated with how do we get more renewable carbon and waste carbon streams converted into products that can be used in our economy today to accelerate economic growth in the United States and to leverage domestic resources that we have that can be potentially abundantly sourced in the next 10 to 15 years. That's a great opportunity. We need the technology to come along beside that. It needs to be developed at the same rate in order to make that happen.

[End of Audio]