New Drop-in Biofuel to Meet Renewable Fuel Standards
The Energy Policy Act of 2005 established a minimum usage volume for renewable fuels. First-generation biofuels, predominately corn-derived ethanol, served to meet the initial goals of the program. Ethanol consumption in the US reached 10.6 billion gallons last year. Ethanol has many benefits as a biofuel, with the most important being that it is a naturally occurring product of the metabolic processes of certain bacteria and yeasts. It is therefore relatively easy to produce. Massive research efforts into "cellulosic" ethanol aim to shift the viable feedstocks for ethanol production away from food crops and towards non-food biomass. However, the use of ethanol has already hit a technological ceiling. Most of the US supply of gasoline currently contains 10% ethanol (E10). Conventional vehicles cannot safely use fuels with significantly higher concentrations of ethanol without retrofits to replace gaskets and metal components susceptible to chemical attack by ethanol. To meet the Renewable Fuel Standards, the use of ethanol will have to double from current rates, rising to 20% of gasoline volume. While "Flexible Fuel" vehicles can safely utilize higher ethanol blends, they represent only a small percentage of new vehicles. This situation has led to the urgent need for "drop-in" renewable fuels. Ideally, such fuels would be chemically identical to conventional gasoline in order to limit the amount of new testing required and speed the introduction of such fuels into the market. This project seeks to develop a new chemical process that can convert ethanol produced from either conventional (corn, sugarcane) or new (biomass, municipal waste) sources into gasoline. The final product is chemically indistinguishable from petroleum-derived gasoline and can therefore be blended into the gasoline pool in any concentration. This project will develop new catalysts and chemistry that permit this transformation to occur. The work is currently at the laboratory scale, where new catalytic materials will be developed and tested to enhance their performance to commercially viable levels. If successful, this new technology will allow users to convert ethanol into a high-quality hydrocarbon fuel that will allow the inclusion of biofuels in the national gasoline supply without the current problems that plague the use of ethanol.
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