Amid the excitement at the Consumer Electronics Show about electric car - Ford showed an electric Focus to be sold at Best Buy; Chevrolet exhibited the Chevy Volt - work continues on finding gasoline alternatives made from wood byproducts.

At the Golden CO National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Chevron is studying the sustainability of wood supplies if such fuels were to catch on, reports the Wall St. Journal. Making gasoline from trees and other plants carries systemic advantages: it can use the same maket supply chain; delivery methods; and automobile technology.

The caveat is that if we became reliant on wood, there would be competition for the wood chips and other byproducts that go into manufactured board; and there could be temptations to deforest during periods of peak fuel and construction demand - especially if both markets peaked simultaneously.

Two firms KiOR and Annellotech, is still  a work in progress. Anellotech licensed "rapid catalytic pyrolysis technology technology" from University of Massachusetts Amherst  that could make competitive fuels with petroleum-derived counterparts even at $35 per barrel of oil, less than half the current price. 


 

 Prof. George Huber explains wood saw dust to fuel conversion.

Anellotech's first adaptation of the process is called Biomass to AromaticsTM (BTA) and to produce green solvents such as benzene, toluene, and xylenes. Anellotech told the MIT Technology Review magazine it will own and operate its own plants, license technology, and sell proprietary catalysts to licensees build a commercial scale facility in 2014. A move to fuels would be a next step. 

 

 

 

KiOR, Inc., based in Pasadena, TX, reached an agreement in Sept. with the State of Mississippi to build five commercial-scale renewable crude oil production facilities.
The company plans to utilize Mississippi’s abundant supply of woody biomass to produce commercial volumes of Re-Crude™, a high-quality crude oil that can be refined into conventional fuel products, including gasoline and diesel, and deployed in the country’s existing transportation fuels infrastructure.

KiOR also has developed a biomass-to-renewable crude oil conversion process that essentially reduces the time it takes nature to produce oil from millions of years to a matter of seconds. KiOR’s process utilizes a proprietary catalyst system and leverages a proven technology used in the oil refining industry. It has significant cost advantages, including lower capital and operating costs, compared to other biofuels technologies.

KiOR will initially utilize woody biomass in its process, though like Annellotech's system, the technology can use  other feedstock such as agricultural residue or purpose grown energy crops. The process is being demonstrated at KiOR’s facility near Houston, which is producing up to 15 barrels of renewable crude oil per day from woodchips, a 400 time scale-up from the company’s pilot plant.

A state assistance package includes a $75 million loan; in return KiOR will build three of its five facilities over the next five years. By 2015, the project will deliver more than 1,000 direct and indirect jobs and an estimated $500 million worth of investment.  

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