A tremendous amount of work is underway at NREL and elsewhere to develop and demonstrate cost competitive process technologies to produce liquid fuels as well as other chemical and energy products from non-food lignocellulosic woody and herbaceous plant materials (“cellulosic biomass”). A variety of technologies have been shown to be technically feasible including those based on primarily biochemical or thermochemical conversion as well as hybrid approaches using a combination of biochemical and thermochemical processing. Many of these are under active development to prove economic viability.
This talk will focus on progress being made to develop and demonstrate cost-competitive biochemical refining technologies. Recent progress achieved at NREL to reduce the cost of converting cellulosic biomass to ethanol will be highlighted, as will new initiatives to convert biomass derived sugars to other advanced biofuels. The potential for process intensification to reduce capital equipment and process operating costs will also be illustrated. Remaining technical barriers and as-yet unrealized opportunities to stimulate biorefinery commercialization will be discussed. While process capital costs remain high and product titers relatively low for biochemical ethanol production from cellulosic feedstocks compared to production from grains (corn, wheat) or sugar juice (beet, cane), the gap between conventional and cellulosic ethanol production technology continues to close and NREL is on track to demonstrate cost-competitive cellulosic ethanol technology at the pilot scale in 2012.
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