ExxonMobil renews biofuel research partnership - Smart Energy Decisions

Industrial, Sourcing Renewables  -  July 19, 2017

ExxonMobil renews biofuel research partnership

ExxonMobil renewed its partnership with the University of Wisconsin-Madison, extending its partnership with the institution to continue researching the conversion of biomass into transportation fuels, according to a July 17 news release.

The two-year renewal extends the project combining UW-Madison’s research capabilities with ExxonMobil’s technological resources, “to identify scalable and commercially viable solutions to help meet increasing global energy demand with a renewable resource,” according to the release.

“Biofuels have the potential to become a significant option for meeting growing global demand for diesel and jet fuel if low cost and scalable technologies can be developed,” George Huber, professor of chemical and biological engineering at UW-Madison, said in a statement. “The focus of this fundamental research is to demonstrate technologies that could make such a scenario possible. We expect to use the same type of catalytic technologies that are already used in the petrochemical industry to convert oil into fuels and chemicals.”

The demand for sustainable fuel options has grown dramatically in recent years, and increasingly, large corporate fleet operators looking for low-carbon fuel options. In May, six companies including Wal-Mart Stores Inc., UPS and PepsiCo Inc. have accelerated their commitment to transitioning to low carbon fuel and related technologies in signing on to the new Sustainable Fuel Buyers Principles organized by global nonprofit BSR.

Huber is part of the team paired up with ExxonMobil’s scientists to research the basic chemical transformations that occur when biomass is converted into diesel and jet fuels.

The past two years of research between the two organizations have focused on a multi-step approach for converting cellulosic biomass into transportation fuels, according to the release. The next steps through the project renewal will be exploring potential ways to reduce the number of processing steps in the conversion.

“This approach using solvents could potentially dissolve the entire biomass, which might make it possible to convert the whole biomass into fuel-sized molecules in a single reactor,” the news release said.

Moving forward, the partnership will also explore technology that would allow larger diesel and jet fuel molecules to be produced from renewable sources, specifically non-food sources such as corn stover and other cellulosic feedstocks.

ExxonMobil has also done work with other universities, including MIT, Princeton, Michigan State, Stanford, University of Texas and Georgia Institute of Technology, on other biofuel research projects, as well as research into topics such as the development of lower-carbon energy sources and energy-efficient plastics manufacturing.

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