U.S. Department of Energy Office of Biological and Environmental Research

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High Yield Biomass Conversion Strategy Ready For Commercialization
Published: May 19, 2017
Posted: June 15, 2017

UW-Madison researchers and collaborators have developed a new “green” technology for converting non-edible biomass into three high-value chemicals that are the basis for products traditionally made from petroleum. [Image courtesy of Phil Biebl/UW-Madison College of Engineering]

Researchers demonstrate 80% of biomass is converted into high-value products.

The Science
Researchers show that the three main components of plant biomass can be converted to high value products in economically favorable yields. Using the concept of an integrated biorefinery multiple products streams are produced, comparable to the process of a petroleum refinery, making lignocellulosic (nonedible) biomass a promising alternative source of carbon. The products produced--dissolving pulp, furfural, carbon foam, and battery anodes--have established markets, minimizing market risk for the first commercial plant.

The Impact
This technology can be expanded upon to produce fermentable sugars, advanced biofuels, or specialty chemicals, and could enable the concept of an integrated renewable biorefinery that is cost-competitive with petroleum. The techno-economic analysis estimates an overall revenue of $500 per dry megaton; this results in an internal rate of return over 30%, thereby making the technology attractive for investment.

The production of renewable chemicals and biofuels must be cost-competitive with petroleum-derived equivalents to be accepted by markets. At the Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center (GLBRC), one of three DOE Bioenergy Research Centers (BRCs), scientists propose a biomass conversion strategy that maximizes the conversion of lignocellulosic biomass. Using this method, up to 80% of the biomass can be converted into high value products that can be commercialized, providing the opportunity for successful translation to a viable commercial process. Their fractionation method preserves the value of all three primary biomass components: cellulose, which is converted into dissolving pulp for fibers and chemical production; hemicellulose, which is converted into furfural, a building block chemical; and lignin, which is converted into carbon products (carbon foam, fibers, or battery anodes). Since these products are all existing targets for pulp mills, they can be directly introduced into current markets, minimizing market risk for the first commercial plant. The overall revenue of the process is about $500 per dry megaton of biomass, which combined with low total cost, results in an internal rate of return of over 30%. Once de-risked, the technology can be extended to produce fermentable sugars, advanced biofuels, or other specialty chemicals. This research aligns closely with DOE’s environmental and energy independence missions.

N. Kent Peters
Program Manager, Office of Biological and Environmental Research
kent.peters@science.doe.gov, 301-903-5549

(PI Contacts)
James A. Dumesic
University of Wisconsin - Madison

Christos T. Maravelias
University of Wisconsin - Madison

Troy Runge
University of Wisconsin - Madison

This work was funded in part by NSF SBIR 1602713 and 1632394 and by the DOE Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center (DOE Office of Science BER DE-FC02-07ER64494). Additional funding provided by Glucan Biorenewables LLC.

Alonso, D.M. et al, “Increasing the revenue from lignocellulosic biomass: Maximizing feedstock utilization.” Science Advances (2017), DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.1603301 (Reference link)

Related Links
University of Wisconsin-Madison Press Release: Triple play boosting value of renewable fuel could tip market in favor of biomass
Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center (GLBRC)

Topic Areas:

  • Research Area: DOE Bioenergy Research Centers (BRC)
  • Cross-Cutting: Scientific Literature
  • Mission Science: Sustainable Biofuels

Division: SC-23.2 Biological Systems Science Division, BER


BER supports basic research and scientific user facilities to advance DOE missions in energy and environment. More about BER

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