Conceptual Process Design and Techno-Economic Assessment of Ex Situ Catalytic Fast Pyrolysis of Biomass: A Fixed Bed Reactor Implementation Scenario for Future Feasibility

Abhijit Dutta, Joshua Schaidle, Frederick Baddour, David Humbird, Asad Sahir

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84 Scopus Citations


Ex situ catalytic fast pyrolysis of biomass is a promising route for the production of fungible liquid biofuels. There is significant ongoing research on the design and development of catalysts for this process. However, there are a limited number of studies investigating process configurations and their effects on biorefinery economics. Herein we present a conceptual process design with techno-economic assessment; it includes the production of upgraded bio-oil via fixed bed ex situ catalytic fast pyrolysis followed by final hydroprocessing to hydrocarbon fuel blendstocks. This study builds upon previous work using fluidized bed systems, as detailed in a recent design report led by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL/TP-5100-62455); overall yields are assumed to be similar, and are based on enabling future feasibility. Assuming similar yields provides a basis for easy comparison and for studying the impacts of areas of focus in this study, namely, fixed bed reactor configurations and their catalyst development requirements, and the impacts of an inline hot gas filter. A comparison with the fluidized bed system shows that there is potential for higher capital costs and lower catalyst costs in the fixed bed system, leading to comparable overall costs. The key catalyst requirement is to enable the effective transformation of highly oxygenated biomass into hydrocarbons products with properties suitable for blending into current fuels. Potential catalyst materials are discussed, along with their suitability for deoxygenation, hydrogenation and C-C coupling chemistry. This chemistry is necessary during pyrolysis vapor upgrading for improved bio-oil quality, which enables efficient downstream hydroprocessing; C-C coupling helps increase the proportion of diesel/jet fuel range product. One potential benefit of fixed bed upgrading over fluidized bed upgrading is catalyst flexibility, providing greater control over chemistry and product composition. Since this study is based on future projections, the impacts of uncertainties in the underlying assumptions are quantified via sensitivity analysis. This analysis indicates that catalyst researchers should prioritize by: carbon efficiency > catalyst cost > catalyst lifetime, after initially testing for basic operational feasibility.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)2-18
Number of pages17
JournalTopics in Catalysis
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2016

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2015 The Author(s).

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/JA-5100-64796


  • Aspen Plus
  • Biofuel
  • Ex situ catalytic fast pyrolysis
  • Fixed bed reactor
  • Hot gas filter
  • Process design
  • Techno-economic assessment
  • Vapor phase upgrading


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