Replacement of petroleum as a carbon source to produce fuels and chemicals with new sustainable resources is crucial due to depletion of petroleum reserves, increasing global energy demand, and arising environmental concerns. To that end, a promising option is to use non-edible lignocellulosic biomass, which can be transformed into various useful products in biorefineries that integrate multiple technologies and conversion processes. Conversion of lignocellulosic biomass to valuable intermediates is a critical step to develop effective biomass-to-biofuel strategies. Levulinic acid (LA) is one of these platform chemicals that can be produced from lignocellulosic biomass and transformed into liquid fuels, fuel additives and even other specialty chemicals. In this respect, in collaboration with the group of Prof. Dumesic, we study LA-based catalytic processes to convert lignocellulosic biomass into liquid hydrocarbon fuels for use in the transportation sector.
Using experimental results for all associated reactions, we synthesize novel biomass-to-fuels strategies that have a number of advantages over existing strategies. Our strategies are based on selective catalytic routes, which produce a mixture of hydrocarbons that are compatible with gasoline and jet fuels used today. We carry out detailed process simulation and optimization studies as well as explore heat integration approaches. Also, we perform capital/operational cost calculations to determine the economic potential of these strategies – we calculate the minimum selling price of liquid fuels at the break-even point. Finally, we evaluate feedstock options, perform sensitivity analyses on various technical and economic parameters, and explore how the proposed strategies can be integrated with existing facilities.