Biochemical Conversion of Lignocellulosic Biomass to Hydrocarbon Fuels and Products: 2021 State of Technology and Future Research

Ryan Davis, Andrew Bartling

Research output: NRELTechnical Report


The annual State of Technology (SOT) assessment is an essential activity for biochemical platform research. It allows the impact of research progress to be quantified in terms of economic improvements in the overall cellulosic biofuel production process for a particular conversion pathway. As such, initial benchmarks can be established for currently demonstrated performance and progress can be tracked towards out-year goals to ultimately demonstrate cost-competitive cellulosic biofuel technology. The purpose of this report is to benchmark the latest experimental developments across a number of potential bioconversion pathways as quantified by modeled minimum fuel selling prices (MFSPs), as a measure of current status relative to those final targets. For this state of technology, TEA models were run for two separate biological conversion pathways to fuels, based on available data for integrated biomass deconstruction and hydrolysate processing; namely carboxylic acids (primarily butyric acid) and diols (2,3-butanediol [BDO]), reflecting NREL's recently-published 2018 biochemical design report focused on those two pathways. The models were run across three scenarios for lignin utilization, namely combustion, conversion to coproducts based on "base case" performance with biomass hydrolysate, and conversion to coproducts based on "high" performance demonstrated with model lignin monomer components. A key improvement reflected in the 2021 SOT is centered around making use of the latest lignin conversion data, which over the past year focused primarily on production of ß-ketoadipate (BKA) as a more optimal molecule compared to the closely-related adipic acid coproduct of prior recent focus, both in terms of superior product properties and biology, as well as reduced processing complexity (reducing two steps for sequential production of muconate followed by hydrogenation to adipic acid down to a single step for direct production of BKA). This update translated to a roughly 17% increase in mass yield of final coproduct output at a nearly four-fold increase in fermentation productivity on lignin monomers relative to prior 2020 SOT benchmarks for muconic/adipic acid production.
Original languageAmerican English
Number of pages45
StatePublished - 2022

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/TP-5100-82512


  • biochemical conversion
  • hydrocarbon fuels and products
  • lignocellulosic biomass
  • state of technology
  • TEA


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