RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. – Researchers at RTI International are advancing processing technology for biomass-based transportation fuels under a $3.1 million award recently announced by the U.S. Department of Energy (DoE).

RTI has been developing a catalytic biomass pyrolysis process over the past several years and is now operating a pilot plant at its Energy Technology Development Facility in Research Triangle Park.

This pilot plant can convert about 1 ton per day of biomass, such as wood chips, corn stover or switchgrass, into a “biocrude.”

In a separate ongoing DoE-funded project, RTI is working with catalyst technology partner, Haldor Topsøe of Denmark, to demonstrate that biocrude can be upgraded to a transportation fuel using technology commonly used in the petroleum refining industry.

David Dayton, director for Biofuels in RTI’s Energy Technology Division, said effective hydrogen utilization is a major factor in increasing the cost competitiveness of bio-based fuels.

“Under this new project, we will develop a novel catalyst technology that will reduce the overall hydrogen demand in the process,” said Dayton. “We will also improve the carbon efficiency by recovering any carbon that leaves the process in a waste water stream and returning it to beneficial use in the process.”

This three-year project supports the DoE Bioenergy Technologies Office’s goal to produce hydrocarbon transportation fuels for less than $3 per gallon.

“For this project we have assembled a very strong project team that has expertise in the key areas of catalyst technology and wastewater treatment,” said Markus Lesemann, senior director for business development in RTI’s Energy Technology Division.

Haldor Topsøe, and additional partner Veolia Water, are both helping to optimize the overall process.

Within its Energy Technology Division, RTI develops process and catalyst technologies for and in collaboration with government and industrial clients in the fields of carbon capture and utilization, syngas clean-up and conversion, biomass conversion, gas processing, and industrial water treatment.