Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Another Approach to Fuels from Levulinic Acid

In an earlier post, we looked at the University of Wisconsin project to create drop-in replacement fuels from levulinic acid derived from cellulosic biomass. This post looks at a different approach to levulinic acid based fuels.
An international team of Shell Oil researchers are developing a process to create biofuels from levulinic acid which could be blended with diesel or gasoline -- depending upon the designed configuration of the fuel.
Researchers at Shell have developed what they are calling a new generation of biofuels based on the hydrogenation of γ-valerolactone (GVL)—an intermediate produced from biomass-derived carbohydrates—to valeric acid and its subsequent esterification. GVL is produced by the hydrogenation of levulinic acid derived by the simple acid hydrolysis of lignocellulosic feedstock.

Depending on the reactants used in the esterification, the resulting valerates, which have good fuel properties, may be blended with gasoline or diesel. A paper on the work by Jean-Paul Lange and his co-workers at Shell in Amsterdam (Netherlands), Cheshire (UK), and Hamburg (Germany) was published online 5 May in the journal Angewandte Chemie International Edition. _GCC

Notice the difference between the Shell approach, and the University of Wisconsin approach pictured below:
Notice that the UW approach produces diesel and gasoline drop-in substitutes, whereas the Shell approach produces a biofuel ester for purposes of blending with diesel or gasoline. Naturally, some of the Shell biofuel projects will attempt to keep biofuels subservient to Shell's main product -- petrofuels.

Shell's process appears to be simpler than UW's. If it proves to be more economical, Shell's levulinic acid fuels may hit markets more quickly. It is important to provide a means to quickly reduce dependency upon fossil fuels, for economic and geo-political purposes. In the longer term, approaches to completely substitute biofuels for petrofuels will be more useful.



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