Bioeconomy Policy Development Sprint

The bioeconomy – the part of the economy driven by the life sciences and biotech, and enabled by engineering, computing, and information science – has the potential to revolutionize human health, climate and energy, food security and sustainability, and supply chain stability, as well as support economic growth and well-paying jobs across the entire country. The U.S. government has recognized this exceptional promise: The recent Executive Order on advancing the U.S. bioeconomy and relevant provisions in the CHIPS and Science Law and the Inflation Reduction Law have opened up an excellent opportunity to engage with the U.S. government to help develop and shape the implementation of policies to bolster the economic engine that is the biotech and biomanufacturing ecosystem.

The Day One Project now needs your help to generate innovative, specific, and actionable policy ideas that the U.S. government could use to supercharge the U.S. bioeconomy.

They are particularly focused on:

  • Leveraging financial or economic tools – such as loan programs, tax incentives, demand-pull mechanisms, and economic development challenges – to support and advance the U.S. bioeconomy in ways that enable and incentivize biotech or biomanufacturing to expand into new regions of the U.S., build new facilities, and engage in workforce development efforts;
  • Enabling better measurement of the U.S. bioeconomy’s contributions to the rest of the economy; and
  • Devising new authorities that may be needed at federal agencies in order to support a maximally-coordinated effort to advance the U.S. bioeconomy.

Submit your idea here. Submissions are due Monday, November 7th, and will be reviewed on a rolling basis, so submit today!

Slurry Phase Catalysts for Bio-Oil Upgradation

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Abstract: The catalytic hydrodeoxygenation (HDO) of food waste-derived biocrude oil was investigated to produce renewable hydrocarbons using slurry phase sulfide and carbide catalysts. Experiments were performed to evaluate the effectiveness of the slurry phase catalysts for the hydrotreatment of biocrude oils. The results were compared with the conventional hydrotreating sulfide catalysts supported on alumina. The dispersed catalysts showed very high hydrocracking and HDO activities for the hydrotreatment of biocrude oils. The results revealed that coke formation was reduced drastically, and the properties of the products were significantly improved with a lower oxygen content and higher heating values. The catalyst activities were compared with the commercially used bimetallic CoMo/Al2O3 catalyst at the same reaction temperature and pressure. The slurry phase catalysts were found to be effective, even at a very low concentration, i.e., wppm levels. The experimental results showed that a 2.5 wt% CoMo slurry catalyst led to a decrease in both the oxygen content and coke amount compared to 20 wt% for the conventional CoMo catalyst. Further, Mo- and Ni-based carbide dispersed catalysts were tested for the hydrotreatment (HDT) of biocrude oil, and the MoC catalyst displayed higher activity. However, the activity was less compared to the conventional CoMo/Al2O3 catalyst. A series of different Mo-based sulfide catalysts (i.e., dispersed solid powder, oil-soluble, and water-soluble) were prepared, and the activities of the catalysts were evaluated at high-temperature / high-pressure reaction conditions for the HDT of a hydrothermal liquefaction (HTL) biocrude oil. Among these, the oil-soluble MoS2 slurry catalyst showed the highest activity. The oil-soluble slurry catalyst was evaluated further using a different catalyst concentration, finding that this catalyst is more effective in the range of 1100 to 1700 metal wppm. Slurry catalysts are highly dispersed in the feedstock, which leads to the higher selectivity and conversions. A significant decrease in the oxygen content and an increase in liquid product demonstrated the potential use of slurry catalysts for the hydrotreatment of biocrude oils.

Rapid screening method targets fatty acids in yeast; Key to sustainable bioproducts

Read the full story from the University of Illinois.

Scientists engineering valuable microbes for renewable fuels and bioproducts have developed an efficient way to identify the most promising varieties. Researchers have developed a high-throughput screening technique to rapidly profile medium-chain fatty acids produced in yeast — part of a larger group of free fatty acids that are key components in essential nutrients, soaps, industrial chemicals, and fuels. The breakthrough will save researchers time and labor as they design sustainable alternatives to petroleum-based chemical manufacturing processes.

New ISTC report: Antioxidants from Wood-derived Pyrolyzates (Bio-oils)

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Phenolic compounds with antioxidant activity toward soybean-derived fatty acid methyl esters (SME, used as a model for biodiesel) were obtained by pyrolysis from wood (birch hardwood), corn stover, and lignin. The lignins were either commercially available (Indulin AT kraft lignin from softwood) or isolated from whole plant material by acid-dioxane extraction. Phenols were isolated from the crude liquid pyrolyzate by extraction with alkali. Antioxidant activities were determined by ferric isothiocyanate spectrometry, Rancimat induction period determination, and pressurized differential scanning calorimetry. Preliminary evidence with hydrocarbon diesel-SME mixtures indicated that the mixtures differed from SME alone in their response to antioxidants. The total phenolic extracts from birch wood pyrolysis and kraft lignin were active antioxidants in all three analyses, comparable in effectiveness to the synthetic antioxidant BHT. However, many simple lignin-related phenolic monomers were found to have little or no activity when tested with SME. Chromatographic separation and analysis of the extracts indicated that the bulk of the activity was associated with a more complex fraction, made up principally of dimers in the size range of lignans, with molecular weights from 272 to 344. A model lignan, the naturally occurring nordihydroguaiaretic acid (molecular weight 302), was shown to have very good effectiveness, as good as or better than BHT. (However, it is not likely to be present in our extracts, based on its mass spectral characteristics.) A suggested mechanism for antioxidant effectiveness of lignin-like dimers was proposed based on steric effects – simultaneous hydrogen bonding and radical quenching.

New — and More Economical — Pyrolysis Techniques for Bio-oil Production

Read the full story in Agricultural Research.

Fast pyrolysis, the process of rapidly heating biomass without oxygen, produces energy-dense bio-oil from wood, plants, and other carbon-based materials.

“It’s becoming one of the most promising methods for extracting the energy from tough plant materials to produce liquid fuels,” says Agricultural Research Service chemist Charles Mullen. Now, innovations by Mullen and his ARS colleagues are bringing researchers one step closer to using pyrolysis in production systems that farmers can use to meet their on-farm energy needs—or to produce renewable fuels for commercial markets.

Using pyrolysis to break down tough feedstocks produces three things: biochar, a gas, and bio-oils that are refined to make “green” gasoline. The oils are high in oxygen, making them acidic and unstable, but the oxygen can be removed by adding catalysts during pyrolysis. Although this adds to production costs and complicates the process, the resulting bio-oil is more suitable for use in existing energy infrastructure systems as a “drop-in” transportation fuel that can used as a substitute for conventional fuels.

In 2013, Mullen and two other researchers—lead scientist Akwasi Boateng and mechanical engineer Neil Goldberg—filed a patent application for a new pyrolysis process that removes much of the oxygen from bio-oils without the need for added catalysts. The three scientists work at the ARS Eastern Regional Research Center in Wyndmoor, Pennsylvania, in the Sustainable Biofuels and Coproducts Research Unit.

Complete Utilization of Spent Coffee Grounds To Produce Biodiesel, Bio-Oil, and Biochar

Derek R. Vardon, Bryan R. Moser, Wei Zheng, Katie Witkin, Roque L. Evangelista, Timothy J. Strathmann, Kishore Rajagopalan, and Brajendra K. Sharma (2013). “Complete Utilization of Spent Coffee Grounds To Produce Biodiesel, Bio-Oil, and Biochar.” ACS Sustainable Chemistry & Engineering Article ASAP. Online at

Abstract: This study presents the complete utilization of spent coffee grounds to produce biodiesel, bio-oil, and biochar. Lipids extracted from spent grounds were converted to biodiesel. The neat biodiesel and blended (B5 and B20) fuel properties were evaluated against ASTM and EN standards. Although neat biodiesel displayed high viscosity, moisture, sulfur, and poor oxidative stability, B5 and B20 met ASTM blend specifications. Slow pyrolysis of defatted coffee grounds was performed to generate bio-oil and biochar as valuable co-products. The effect of feedstock defatting was assessed through bio-oil analyses including elemental and functional group composition, compound identification, and molecular weight and boiling point distributions. Feedstock defatting reduced pyrolysis bio-oil yields, energy density, and aliphatic functionality, while increasing the number of low-boiling oxygenates. The high bio-oil heteroatom content will likely require upgrading. Additionally, biochar derived from spent and defatted grounds were analyzed for their physicochemical properties. Both biochars displayed similar surface area and elemental constituents. Application of biochar with fertilizer enhanced sorghum–sudangrass yields over 2-fold, indicating the potential of biochar as a soil amendment.

Fast Pyrolysis Oil Stabilization: An Integrated Catalytic and Membrane Approach for Improved Bio-oils

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This University of Massachusetts, Amherst project, “Fast Pyrolysis Oil Stabilization: An Integrated Catalytic and Membrane Approach for Improved Bio-oils” started on 1st February 2009 and finished on August 31st 2011. The project consisted of 7 tasks, which are described as follows:

  1. Char Removal by Membrane Separation Technology
  2. Acid Removal by Membrane Separation Technology
  3. Acid Removal by Catalytic Processing
  4. Acid Removal using Ion Exchange Resins
  5. Characterization of Upgraded Bio-oils
  6. Commercialization Assessment
  7. Project Management and Reporting

Char particles above 1μm in size were removed from fast pyrolysis bio-oil by microfiltration using ceramic membranes. The microscopic images and ash analysis confirm the removal of the majority of the optically visible char particles from the bio-oil with both the 0.5 and 0.8 μm membranes. Microfiltration had little impact on the concentration of the key components related to the energy content of bio-oil, which can be viewed as a positive finding. The microfiltration process and the removal of the char particles did not seem to have any effect the physico-chemical aging process of the bio-oil, although some theories have implicated char as an important contributor to the aging process. A detailed fouling analysis showed a clear predominance of the cake formation mechanism in the 0.5 and 0.8 μm membranes. For the 0.5 μm membrane this mechanism is predominant over the entire permeation run, however, in case of 0.8 μm membrane, there was some evidence that other fouling mechanisms such as pore constriction and pore blocking may contribute during the initial stages. Currently there is no established process to remove char particles from bio-oil in the size range of 10 μm or less, and this study has shown that microfiltration is promising for this separation. One future goal is to develop this process for the pilot and industrial scale, in which will require more detailed investigation of the different factors affecting the fouling process including the crossflow velocity and the concentration of char particles present in the feed stream. Understanding the underlying mechanisms for char particle removal from bio-oil will allow more efficient membrane separation processes to be designed in the future.

Asad Javaid, Tatiana Ryan, Gayla Berg, Xiaoming Pan, Tushar Vispute, Surita R. Bhatia, George W. Huber, David M. Ford, Removal of char particles from fast pyrolysis bio-oil by microfiltration, Journal of Membrane Science 363 (2010) 120–127. DOI:

Pyrolysis Oil Stabilization: Hot-Gas Filtration; Cooperative Research and Development Final Report

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The hypothesis that was tested in this task was that separation of char, with its associated mineral matter from pyrolysis vapors before condensation, will lead to improved oil quality and stability with respect to storage and transportation. The metric used to evaluate stability in this case was a 10-fold reduction in the rate of increase of viscosity as determined by ASTM D445 (the accelerated aging test). The primary unit operation that was investigated for this purpose was hot-gas filtration. A custom-built heated candle filter system was fabricated by the Pall Corporation and furnished to NREL for this test campaign. This system consisted of a candle filter element in a containment vessel surrounded by heating elements on the external surface of the vessel. The filter element and housing were interfaced to NREL?s existing 0.5 MTD pyrolysis Process Development Unit (PDU). For these tests the pyrolysis reactor of the PDU was operated in the entrained-flow mode. The HGF test stand was installed on a slipstream from the PDU so that both hot-gas filtered oil and bio-oil that was not hot-gas filtered could be collected for purposes of comparison. Two filter elements from Pall were tested: (1) porous stainless steel (PSS) sintered metal powder; (2) sintered ceramic powder. An extremely sophisticated bio-oil condensation and collection system was designed and fabricated at NREL and interfaced to the filter unit.

Corrosivity Of Pyrolysis Oils

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Pyrolysis oils from several sources have been analyzed and used in corrosion studies which have consisted of exposing corrosion coupons and stress corrosion cracking U-bend samples.  The chemical analyses have identified the carboxylic acid compounds as well as the other organic components which are primarily aromatic hydrocarbons.  The corrosion studies have shown that raw pyrolysis oil is very corrosive to carbon steel and other alloys with relatively low chromium content.  Stress corrosion cracking samples of carbon steel and several low alloy steels developed through-wall cracks after a few hundred hours of exposure at 50°C.