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Jet fuel based on forest biomass passes the test

Virent and Virdia have announced the successful conversion of cellulosic pine tree sugars to drop-in hydrocarbon fuels within the BIRD Energy project, a joint program funded by the U.S. Department of Energy, the Israeli Ministry of National...


March 27, 2012
By Pulp & Paper Canada

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Virent and Virdia have announced the successful conversion of cellulosic pine tree sugars to drop-in hydrocarbon fuels within the BIRD Energy project, a joint program funded by the U.S. Department of Energy, the Israeli Ministry of National Infrastructure and the BIRD Foundation. The project, started in January of last year, has successfully demonstrated that Virdia’s deconstruction process generated high-quality sugars from cellulosic biomass, which were converted to fuel via Virent’s BioForming® process.

Virent used Virdia’s biomass-derived sugars to produce gasoline and jet fuel, the latter being sent to the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) for analysis where it passed rigorous testing. Tim Edwards of the Fuels Branch of the AFRL said, “This fuel passed the most stringent specification tests we could throw at it (such as thermal stability) under some conditions where conventional jet fuels would fail. This fuel is definitely worth further evaluation.”

“The high-quality sugars generated from pine trees using Virdia’s process leveraged Virent’s conversion process, establishing a viable route to drop-in hydrocarbons from biomass,” said Virent co-founder and chief technology officer Dr. Randy Cortright.

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“As demonstrated by the BIRD Energy project results, Virdia’s CASE™ (Cold Acid Solvent Extraction) process can deliver the high-purity, cost-effective cellulosic sugars needed as the primary raw material for jet fuels and other applications,” said Philippe Lavielle, Virdia CEO.

Virdia’s CASE process encompasses a sequence of proprietary extraction and separation operations. Originally developed around the Bergius process (concentrated hydrochloric acid hydrolysis of biomass), the CASE process achieves the highest yields in the industry, and produces high purity fractions of sugars and lignin. Its low temperature, low pressure hydrolysis coupled with its closed loops of acid recovery and solvent extraction establish it as one of the most economical and environmentally sustainable processes.

Virent’s BioForming platform utilizes a novel combination of catalytic processes to convert water-soluble oxygenated hydrocarbons derived from biomass to non-oxygenated hydrocarbons that can be used as drop-in compounds in gasoline, jet fuel and diesel fuel. Virent’s BioForming platform catalysts and reactor systems are similar to those found in today’s petroleum oil refineries and petrochemical complexes.