DOE Partnership Looks To Improve Catalyst Performance

Oct. 11, 2017
Department of Energy’s National Labs collaborate with Gevo to optimize ethanol-to-olefins catalyst performance.

Gevo, Inc. will partner with National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), Argonne National Laboratory (ANL) and Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) to fine-tune the composition of the catalyst used in Gevo’s proprietary ETO process, to improve performance and accelerate scale-up efforts.  ChemCatBio, a consortium within the U.S. Department of Energy, awarded funding to the national labs in support of the project.

Gevo is developing its ETO technology, a process using ethanol as a feedstock for the production of hydrocarbons, renewable hydrogen, and other chemical intermediates. The process produces tailored mixes of isobutylene, propylene, hydrogen and acetone, which are valuable as standalone molecules, or as feedstocks to produce other chemical products and longer chain alcohols. At this time, Gevo’s ETO technology has only been operated at a laboratory scale. If successfully scaled-up to commercial level, however, this technology may provide the estimated 25BGPY global ethanol industry a broader set of end-product market and margin opportunities.

Gevo’s catalyst is reportedly capable of converting complex mixtures of other bio-based alcohols, acids and other oxygenates to primarily propylene or isobutylene and significant levels of renewable hydrogen. Suitable feedstocks could include difficult to process side streams from fermentation plants, biomass gasification plants, syngas plants, municipal or industrial waste processing plants or crude petro-based chemical streams. Gevo reportedly believes this catalytic technology could provide a cost-competitive option for industrial plants to upgrade lower value products and side streams, and facilitate entry into markets actively pursuing more sustainable options. These markets could include renewable fuels and plastics, renewable hydrogen and renewable downstream chemicals based on propylene or butylenes.

“We are excited to begin this collaboration with Gevo and believe that the state-of-the-art capabilities and expertise available through the Advanced Catalyst Synthesis and Characterization (ACSC) project within the ChemCatBio Consortium will enable us to gain a fundamental understanding of critical catalyst features that can change over time and impact the performance of Gevo’s ETO catalysts,” says Dr. Susan Habas, a principal investigator in the ChemCatBio Consortium. “We’ll use a combination of high energy X-ray characterization techniques at ANL, subatomic-resolution microscopy at ORNL and highly sensitive vibrational spectroscopies at NREL to deliver insight into the atomic-level structure of these catalysts under reaction relevant conditions. Armed with a detailed knowledge of the ‘working’ catalyst structure we can design and synthesize catalyst composition that have dramatically improved stability and lifetime in Gevo’s ETO process.”

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