Researchers at the Energy Biosciences Institute (EBI), a partnership led by the University of California, Berkeley that includes Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and BP, have developed a new method for producing drop-in aviation fuel, as well as lubricating base oils, from sugarcane biomass.
The strategy behind the process could also be applied to biomass from other non-food plants and agricultural waste that are fermented by genetically engineered microbes, the researchers said.
The catalytic process, described in an open-access paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), selectively upgrades alkyl methyl ketones derived from sugarcane biomass into trimer condensates with better than 95% yields. These condensates are then hydro-deoxygenated into a new class of cycloalkane compounds that contain a cyclohexane ring and a quaternary carbon atom.
These cycloalkane compounds can be tailored to produce either jet fuel or lubricating base oils resulting in products with superior cold-flow properties, density and viscosity that could achieve net life-cycle greenhouse gas savings of up to 80%, depending upon the optimization conditions.
The ability of the EBI process to yield jet fuel or lubricants could be a significant advantage for biorefineries.