ExxonMobil, University of Wisconsin-Madison to advance research into fuel from biomass

IRVING, Texas & MADISON, Wis. — The University of Wisconsin-Madison and ExxonMobil have announced a 2-yr renewal of an agreement to research the fundamental chemistry of converting biomass into transportation fuels. The research is part of a broad effort to identify scalable and commercially viable solutions to help meet increasing global energy demand with a renewable resource.

UW-Madison has long been known for its expertise in biomass conversion. George Huber, the Harvey D. Spangler professor of chemical and biological engineering at UW-Madison, is working closely with ExxonMobil’s scientists to build a stronger understanding of the basic chemical transformations that occur during biomass conversion into diesel and jet fuels.

Over the past 2 yr, research has focused on a multistep approach for converting cellulosic biomass to transportation fuels. A new approach with the potential to reduce the number of processing steps will be explored in this collaboration. This approach using solvents 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. Ethanol is currently produced from a range of sources and is widely used as an additive to gasoline. This technology could potentially allow larger diesel and jet fuel molecules to be produced from renewable sources. Our research continues to focus on non-food sources like corn stover and other cellulosic feedstocks.

ExxonMobil’s work with UW-Madison is a recent addition in a series of partnerships the company has established with leading universities around the world as part of its ongoing research into early-stage innovative projects. This area of biofuels research adds to ExxonMobil’s broader advanced biofuels research portfolio, which includes joint research collaborations focused on algae-based biofuels with Synthetic Genomics, Inc., Colorado School of Mines and Michigan State. ExxonMobil is also exploring a variety of biomass-to-fuels conversion processes, which could be used with non-food based feedstocks such as cellulose-derived sugars, in collaboration with REG Life Sciences, a wholly owned subsidiary of Renewable Energy Group (REG).

ExxonMobil also partners with MIT, Princeton, Michigan State, Stanford, University of Texas and Georgia Institute of Technology in a range of areas from the development of lower-carbon energy sources to energy-efficient plastics manufacturing.

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