Monday, February 16, 2009

Furan for Gasoline?

This first item led me to the related item regarding the work on furan as a fuel. It competes directly with gasoline and relies on cellulose as a feedstock without a painful side trip through a biological intermediary.

It is easy to understand what drives cellulose based biofuel research. There is plenty of it and by its very nature, only termites and odd single cell animals thrive on its food value. Converting waste cellulose to a fuel precursor is a very desirable outcome. That furan is a deliverable fuel with the comparable energy density of gasoline is a welcome option.

No one mentions that the process also produces other important chemicals besides HMF that also must be dealt with. However, been able to throw everything into the chipper and then into a batch brewing process delivering a sizable percentage of HMT is a rather good start. It is something that a farm can master. Even if the resultant fluid is not separated, it is shippable.

So we have a chemical processing protocol that delivers a working fuel and additional chemical feed stocks of significance by a different route than imagined by other efforts with cellulose.

As I have posted many times, we must vacate the oil patch for our transportation fuels. A number of sugar and starch sources can give us a lot of ethanol, but likely not enough to ever avoid rationing. The major byproduct of all these methods happens to be cellulose. Converting cellulose directly into HMF and then to furan is a major break in the right direction. We still will have other byproducts but these are marginal compared to sponging up the sugars and the cellulose.

Process turns raw biomass into biofuel

by Staff Writers
Madison, Wis. (UPI) Feb 12, 2009

U.S. biochemists say they have developed a two-step chemical process that can convert cellulose in raw biomass into promising biofuels.

University of Wisconsin researchers said the new process is unprecedented in its use of untreated, inedible biomass as the starting material. They said the key to the new process is the first step, in which cellulose is converted into the "platform" chemical 5-hydroxymethylfurfural from which a variety of valuable commodity chemicals can be made.

"Other groups have demonstrated some of the individual steps involved in converting biomass to HMF (5-hydroxymethylfurfural), starting with glucose or fructose," said Professor Ronald Raines, who led the study. "What we did was show how to do the whole process in one step, starting with biomass itself."

Raines and graduate student Joseph Binder said they developed a unique mix of solvents and additives -- for which a patent is pending -- that has an extraordinary capacity to dissolve cellulose. And since cellulose is one of the most abundant organic substances on the planet, it is widely seen as a promising alternative to fossil fuels.

The research is detailed in the Journal of the American Chemical Society.
A search led to this article, not noted at the time because of the use of the feedstocks of glucose and fructose. Switching to cellulose changes all that.

Avantium Engine-Tests Furan-Based Biofuel

Avantium, which spun-off from Shell in 2000, successfully
completed an engine test to demonstrate the potential of its furan-based biofuels, or “furanics.” Furanics are heteroaromatic compounds derived from the chemical intermediate HMF (hydroxymethylfurfural, C6H6O3).

The cost-effective development of HMF and its fuel and chemical derivatives from biomass is of increasing research interest (
earlier post, earlier post), given that the resulting fuels have significant advantages over first-generation biofuels.

For example, 2,5-dimethylfuran, one of the HMF-derived fuels being researched by Professor James Dumesic at the University of Wisconsin, has around a 40% higher energy density than ethanol, a higher boiling point (by 20 K), and is not soluble in water. Ethoxymethylfurfural (EMF, one of Avantium’s furanics examples) has an energy density of 8.7 kWh/L—very close to that of regular gasoline (8.8 kWh/L), nearly as good diesel (9.7 kWh/L) and significantly higher than ethanol (6.1 kWh/L).

Avantium is focused on the development of second generation biofuels and catalytic processes for the efficient production of novel bio fuels and bio-based chemicals. (The company also has a major focus in the pharmaceutical industry.)

By using its catalytic process development platform, Avantium has been able to find new and improved catalytic routes to specific furanics. Specifically, Avantium developed a one-step method for obtaining HMF derivatives in high yields from very hexose or hexose-containing starting materials such as sucrose and glucose.

The engine test. The engine test was performed by Intertek, in Geleen, The Netherlands, an independent test center. Using a Citro├źn Berlingo with a regular diesel engine, Avantium tested a wide range of blends of Furanics with regular diesel. The test yielded what the company termed positive results for all blends tested. The engine ran smoothly for several hours. Exhaust analysis uncovered a significant reduction of soot (fine particulates). Furanics do not contain any sulfur.

The excellent results of the engine test support the proof of principle of our next generation biofuel, and is an essential milestone for our biofuels development program. The significant reduction of soot in the car exhaust is encouraging, as soot emissions are considered a major disadvantage of using diesel today, because of its adverse environmental and health effects. We are developing a next generation biofuel that has superior fuel properties and process economics compared to existing biofuels. The production process of Furanics has an excellent fit with existing chemical process technology and infrastructure. Ultimately our ambition is to develop biofuels that are competitive with fossil based fuels.

—Tom van Aken, Chief Executive Officer of Avantium

The company plans to undertake an additional, comprehensive engine tests in 2008 to study engine performance and long terms effects of Furanics. Commercialization will also require studies of toxicologic and environmental effects, such as emissions.

Avantium also announced the filing of over a dozen patent applications on the production and use of Furanics as part of the company’s strategy to build an extensive patent portfolio for its biofuels program. In September 2007, the first two key patents were published, that claim amongst others the use of furanics as a biofuel and its production routes from sugars.

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