Researchers at Washington State University Tri-Cities were awarded a $50,000 grant to explore the market potential of their biojet fuel research.
The team has demonstrated a new, water-based process for deconstructing and recovering a waste product from biomass and converting it into jet fuel-range hydrocarbons. It could be certified as jet fuel in the future.
Lignin is a polymer that makes plants woody and rigid and is a waste product in the biofuels production process.
The patent on the process is held by Bin Yang, WSU Tri-Cities associate professor of biological systems engineering and principal investigator for the National Science Foundation I-Corps grant.
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“Our ultimate goal is to demonstrate a flexible catalytic process that selectively converts all the carbon in the lignin into jet fuel-range hydrocarbons at minimal cost,” Yang said.
Commercial airlines may have an interest in the alternative fuel because they are facing pressure to reduce emissions, said Libing Zhang, WSU Tri-Cities postdoctoral research associate and entrepreneurial lead on the project.
“The airlines see alternative jet fuel as a strategic need, helping guarantee smooth business operations and a long-term and sustainable jet fuel supply,” Zhang said. “Our conversion process can potentially reduce jet fuel cost to end users by using lignin waste from refineries and less-expensive catalytic upgrading to jet fuel.”
Yang and his team are working under the mentorship of Terri L. Butler from the University of Washington for the business aspects of the project.
“The NSF I-Corps program encourages researchers to step out of the academic environment and listen to the needs of industry,” Butler said. “The researchers can then determine if their technology solves an important problem or if their research efforts should head in a different direction.
WSU is leading the nation in biofuel production. In November, Alaska Airlines made its first commercial flight using alternative jet fuel from forest residuals produced through the WSU-led Northwest Advanced Renewables Alliance.
Read more at bit.ly/airlinebiofuel.