US scientists produce high octane petrol from biomethanol

Our Bureau New Delhi | Updated on July 09, 2019 Published on July 09, 2019

Representative image   -  aydinmutlu

The conversion of biofuels, derived from plants, into premium fuels can now be done in a cost-effective manner

Global efforts to develop climate-friendly fuels received a boost on Monday with a team of researchers from a United States (US) lab finding a cost-effective way to convert biofuels derived from plants into premium fuels such as high octane petrol and aviation fuel.

In a study published in Nature Catalysis journal, researchers from National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) in the US said that they have devised a cheaper method to produce high-quality hydrocarbon fuels like high-octane petrol from biofuels.

Though replacing petroleum-based fuels with cleaner biofuels is the way forward, there are a number of challenges in converting biomethanol into premium fuels. The technologies that exist today rely on multi-step processes and high temperatures, which drive up the cost. Moreover, they produce lower-grade fuel, that too in much smaller quantities to be competitive enough to challenge the dominance of the fossil fuels, which are implicated in global warming.

Now, the scientists led by Daniel Ruddy at NREL’s National Bioenergy Center, have developed a new catalytic process which would address some of these concerns. “With the previously reported technology, the conversion cost from methanol to the desired fuel product is about $1 a gallon (one gallon is 3.785 litre). Our best-case scenario is 38 cents a gallon. Where we’ve gotten so far is about 60 to 70 cents a gallon,” said Ruddy in a statement.

One of the major problems that the scientists encountered during the conversion process was the hydrogen deficiency. Hydrogen is a key component of hydrocarbons, which are necessary for fuels. They hypothesised that adding a transition metal to catalyst – zeolites are normally used as catalysts in petroleum refineries – would help solve the problem. Their intuition turned out to be correst as the addition of copper to not only yielded more fuel but brought down the cost. The scientists estimated that the copper-infused catalyst resulted in 38 per cent more yield and 29 per cent less cost.

Costs aside, the NREL process provides those using it with other competitive benefits. For instance, it allows companies to compete with ethanol producers for renewable fuel credits (if the carbon used comes from biogas or municipal waste). It's also compatible with existing methanol plants that use natural gas or solid waste to generate syngas.

Published on July 09, 2019
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