ExxonMobil and University Wisconsin-Madison renew biomass-biofuels research collaboration

ExxonMobil and the University of Wisconsin-Madison have announced a two-year renewal of an agreement to research the fundamental chemistry of converting biomass into transportation fuels. The research forms part of a bigger drive to identify scalable, commercially viable solutions to meet growing global energy demand with renewable resources.

The collaboration between ExxonMobil and University Wisconsin-Madison aims to combine the university’s expertise in biomass conversion with ExxonMobil’s resources and technological capabilities.

“The renewal of our agreement with the University of Wisconsin-Madison will continue ExxonMobil’s work with top universities and scientists to discover and advance next-generation energy solutions,” said Vijay Swarup, vice president of research and development for ExxonMobil Research & Engineering Company. “We look forward to continuing our collaboration with the university as we enhance our scientific understanding of advanced biofuels and explore potential new technologies.”

The last two years of the project have seen research focus on a multistep approach for converting cellulosic biomass to transportation fuels. The next two years of the collaboration will look at a new approach which could reduce the number of steps in the process. Using solvents, the approach could potentially dissolve the entire biomass, which might make it possible to convert the whole biomass into fuel-sized molecules in a single reactor.

Another potential process that will be studied in this collaboration involves the catalytic transformation of bio-derived ethanol into bio-derived diesel and jet fuel. The technology could potentially allow larger diesel and jet fuel molecules to be produced from renewable sources.

“Biofuels have the potential to become a significant option for meeting growing global demand for diesel and jet fuel if low cost and scalable technologies can be developed,” says Professor George Huber, a scientist from the university working closely with the scientists from ExxonMobil. “The focus of this fundamental research is to demonstrate technologies that could make such a scenario possible. We expect to use the same type of catalytic technologies that are already used in the petrochemical industry to convert oil into fuels and chemicals.”

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