Synthesis and utilization of ether fuels from forestry biomass in diesel engines

Oxygenated fuels, or oxygenates, such as di-methyl ether (DME) and oxymethylenes (OME) are the focus of significant interest from global diesel engine manufactures because their utilization results in substantial reductions in carbon dioxide, particulate matter emissions, and typically in lower vehicle operating costs. 

Methanol recovered from the Kraft pulping process constitutes an ideal feedstock for the direct synthesis of DME as well as OMEs, but these valorization schemes are presently limited by two main technical challenges. First, methanol recovered from the Kraft process typically contains organic contaminants resulting from the pulping process. These must be removed to prevent poisoning of the catalysts used for the synthesis of DME or OMEs and the technologies currently used are expensive. Second, the syntheses and separation pathways for OMEs have not yet been demonstrated beyond the laboratory bench scale and will require validation and process engineering development before full industrial deployment.

This project aims to address these two technological bottlenecks by: 1) prototyping an engineered low-cost extraction system based on the utilization of a novel class of solid-state absorbents synthesized using forestry biomass and by 2) developing a methodology for the synthesis and separation of OMEs using continuous reactors and distillation system at the pre-commercial pilot scale.

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