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 anticipated lower vehicle operating and maintenance costs. Methanol recovered from the Kraft pulping process constitutes an ideal feedstock for the direct synthesis of DME and OMEs. However, Kraft methanol contains organic sulfur and nitrogen compounds resulting from the pulping process that may poison the catalytic systems used to transform methanol into oxygenated fuels. The lack of in-depth knowledge about these chemical compounds has historically represented a barrier toward designing tailored engineering devices to protect catalysts used for the synthesis of DME or OMEs.
During the first phase of this project (2018-2021), we developed a suite of analytical chemistry methods and conducted the first known identification and quantification of organosulfur and nitrogen-based compounds in Kraft methanol recovered under a broad range of operating conditions. Through this work we identified several high-value chemicals with applications in the biotechnology industry. In the second phase of this project (2021-2024) we will continue to characterize these chemicals and design, prototype and field validate a system to selectively extract the high-value species in collaboration with an industry partner. In parallel with this work, we will continue to advance our fundamental knowledge of the reaction kinetics of DME and OMEs synthesis using a combination of laboratory and pilot scale equipment.