Public-private partnership to make jet fuel from grass

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The Department of Energy's National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) is partnering with Cobalt Technologies, U.S. Navy, and Show Me Energy Cooperative to demonstrate that jet fuel can be made economically and in large quantities from a renewable biomass feedstock such as switchgrass.

"This can be an important step in the efforts to continue to displace petroleum by using biomass resources," NREL Manager for Bioprocess Integration R&D Dan Schell said. "We're converting biomass into sugars for subsequent conversion to butanol and then to JP5 jet fuel."

It's one of four biorefinery projects funded recently by the DOE as part of the administration's efforts to support renewable biofuels as a domestic alternative to power military and civilian aircraft and vehicles

NREL's pretreatment reactor and enzymatic digester reactors will process switchgrass into fermentable sugars. NREL's 9,000-liter fermenters will then produce butanol from the sugars using Cobalt Technologies' proprietary microorganisms and fermentation process. A co-exclusive patent license agreement between the Navy and Cobalt Technologies is providing the technology and expertise for converting the butanol to jet fuel.

Show Me Energy Cooperative of Centerville, Mo., will provide the switchgrass feedstock. Show Me Energy's headquarters also is a potential site for a new, larger biorefinery if the demonstration succeeds.

NREL will be combining its pretreatment, enzymatic hydrolysis, and fermentation expertise with Cobalt's promising microorganisms to produce the butanol intermediate, said David Sievers, R&D Engineer at NREL. Technology originating from Cobalt and the Navy will be used to turn butanol into jet fuel at the NREL biorefinery pilot plant. The process will use the Navy's unique catalyst systems.

The goal is to show that the Cobalt-Navy bio-jet fuel can be a cost competitive alternative that meets military specifications while using non-food based biomass as a feedstock, thus reducing the Department of Defense's dependence on petroleum-based products.

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