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PERP Program - Biogasoline

Objectives of report 

This report focuses on the technical and economic outlook for biologically-based liquid fuels that can substitute for conventional petroleum-derived gasoline (which we call “biogasoline”). Currently, the primary commercial type of biogasoline is bioethanol, but other types are being developed to meet various challenges. We also consider commercial and strategic factors that drive the broad-based global developments in this field. This report is intended to answer the following critical questions regarding biogasoline:

  • What is the market outlook over the next 10 years for production and consumption of bioethanol?
  • What are the key issues related to availability of starch and sugar substrates (feedstocks) for fermentation bioethanol production?
  • What technological developments can be expected in bioethanol production?
  • What alternative biogasoline types and associated new technologies can be expected to be developed by 2015?
  • How competitive are various options for biogasoline with conventional petroleum gasoline?

Biogasoline Overall Perspective

Overall, the bioethanol industry is evolving, as it must, from a base primarily of fermenting grain (corn, wheat, milo, etc.), sugar (sugarcane and beet), and starch (cassava, potatoes, etc.) to cellulose fermentation and gasification.  However, technologies for thermal-chemical conversion of biomass also can serve to make biogasoline, which can have a major impact on overall vehicle fuel supplies in the future.  Figure 1 summarizes perceived aspects, in broad terms, of the biogasoline industry’s likely evolution from its current state to what it is likely to be in 10-15 years.

Figure 1            Projected Evolution of Biofuels Production      

Projected Evolution of Biofuels Production

Most Likely Development Pathways

Technology development generally is not a precise process, and can take many routes.  The process is not always efficient, and advances reflect a certain element of trial and error as well as luck.   Ultimately, however, the history of the process industries indicates that the key drivers that determine “technology evolution” are:

  • Investment capital minimization
  • Production cost minimization
  • Environmental performance
  • Energy and carbon efficiency
  • Utilization of advantaged feedstocks

Another approach to technology development is to adapt and combine existing technologies, and leverage current experience to achieve a “path of least resistance” configuration, which might be sub-optimum, but which can be commercialized with least risk.  The following are several “path of least resistance” configurations that might be used to advance the biofuels industry and come to grips with various basic challenges, which we believe can be most rapidly commercialized with relatively low risk.

Syngas from Coked Biomass to Biogasoline

  • “Torrefaction”, or coking, of various biomass materials – wood, straw, stover, switchgrass, etc. to produce a low-moisture, increased heating value, storable, granular material resembling coal, followed by,
  • Gasification in whatever the leading-edge, most practical oxygen-blown coal gasifier may be adaptable at the time (typical contenders today are Shell, GE (formerly Texaco), GKT, and GTI, and German Choren is developing biomass gasification to make diesel fuel using Fischer-Tropsch catalysis), possibly integrated with power generation, to produce syngas for,
  • Catalytic synthesis, including possibly an adapted Fischer-Tropsch catalyst, of biogasoline, separately or co-currently with biodiesel, jet fuel, other hydrocarbon products, and chemical feedstocks

 Bioethanol Dehydration to Biogasoline

  • Ethanol production from carbohydrates (starch, sugar, or cellulose) by fermentation, or by gasification of cellulose for fermentation of carbon monoxide to ethanol, followed by,
  • Dehydration of ethanol to either n-butanol by the Sangi HAP or other similar technology, or to hydrocarbon gasoline by Sangi HAP or by leveraging the well-demonstrated Mobil MTG (methanol-to-gasoline) technology

Liquid Fuels Synthesis via Biomass Anaerobic Digestion Methane 

  • Methane production from waste biomass by anaerobic digestion (AD), followed by catalytic reforming to syngas by extremely common technology possibly integrated with power generation, followed by,
  • Catalytic synthesis, including possibly an adapted Fischer-Tropsch catalyst, of biogasoline, separately or co-currently with biodiesel, jet fuel, other hydrocarbon products, and chemical feedstocks

Another way to organize biofuels technologies is by major routes, or “platforms”.  The two major platforms vying to make gasoline range motor fuels, fermentation and gasification, have widely different characteristics and involve different developmental issues.  Table 1 provides a comparison among these two routes.

Table 1                        Comparison of Two Platforms for Biogasoline

Comparison of Two Platforms for Biogasoline

Figure 2 provides a picture of:

  •  Availability and cost of feedstocks
  • Many of the commercial and emerging technology options available or being developed
  • The types of fuels that can be made
  • Levels of commercialization

We have presented the entire complex of biofuels developments, including biodiesel, to put biogasoline in context with the larger biofuels development effort (with biodiesel elements represented in background tones). Beyond this are related developments in utility generation of electricity through biomass gasification and combustion, anaerobic digestion for substitute natural gas and power production, and chemicals and biobased materials production.

Figure 2          Current and Emerging Liquid Biofuels Technologies

Current and Emerging Liquid Biofuels Technologies

Among potential feedstocks, the hierarchy of supply volumes available is indicated on the left of Figure 2 as increasing from top to bottom, while volumetric costs, inversely, are highest at the top for natural oils and fats and lowest at the bottom for biomass. The technologies, as indicated on the right, are generally arranged from most commercial at the top to less so towards the bottom.

Table 2 profiles the leading biogasoline technologies that Nexant evaluated for analysis in this study.

Table 2             Status of Selected Emerging Biogasoline Technologies
Mid-2006   

Status of Selected Emerging Biogasoline Technologies


1) Nexant calculation
2) DOE-NREL study on biomass conversion- http://www.eere.energy.gov/biomass/progs/searchdb2.cgi?6483 
3) DOE-NREL-Nexant study on mixed alcohols to ethanol- http://www.nrel.gov/docs/fy06osti/39947.pdf

These reports are for the exclusive use of the purchasing company or its subsidiaries, from Nexant, Inc., 44 South Broadway, White Plains, New York   10601-4425 U.S.A.  For further information about these reports contact Dr. Jeffrey S. Plotkin, Vice President and Global Director, PERP Program, phone:  1-914-609-0315;  fax:  1-914-609-0399; e-mail:   jplotkin@nexant.com; or Heidi Junker Coleman, phone:  1-914-609-0381, e-mail address:   hcoleman@nexant.com,  Website: http://www.chemsystems.com            

©2007 Nexant, Inc.