Drop-In Biofuel Production via Conventional (Lipid/Fatty Acid) and Advanced (Biomass) Routes. Part I

James McMillan, Sergios Karatzos, J. van Dyk, Jack Saddler

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

74 Scopus Citations


Drop-in biofuels that are ‘functionally identical to petroleum fuels and fully compatible with existing infrastructure’ are needed for sectors such as aviation where biofuels such as bioethanol/biodiesel cannot be used. The technologies used to produce drop-in biofuels can be grouped into the four categories: oleochemical, thermochemical, biochemical, and hybrid technologies. Commercial volumes of conventional drop-in biofuels are currently produced through the oleochemical pathway, to make products such as renewable diesel and biojet fuel. However, the cost, sustainability, and availability of the lipid/fatty acid feedstocks are significant challenges that need to be addressed. In the longer-term, it is likely that commercial growth in drop-in biofuels will be based on lignocellulosic feedstocks. However, these technologies have been slow to develop and have been hampered by several technoeconomic challenges. For example, the gasification/Fischer-Tropsch (FT) synthesis route suffers from high capital costs and economies of scale difficulties, while the economical production of high quality syngas remains a significant challenge. Although pyrolysis/hydrothermal liquefaction (HTL) based technologies are promising, the upgrading of pyrolysis oils to higher specification fuels has encountered several technical challenges, such as high catalyst cost and short catalyst lifespan. Biochemical routes to drop-in fuels have the advantage of producing single molecules with simple chemistry. However, the high value of these molecules in other markets such as renewable chemical precursors and fragrances will limit their use for fuel. In the near-term, (1–5 years) it is likely that, ‘conventional’ drop-in biofuels will be produced predominantly via the oleochemical route, due to the relative simplicity and maturity of this pathway.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)344-362
Number of pages19
JournalBiofuels, Bioproducts and Biorefining
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2017

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2017 Society of Chemical Industry and John Wiley & Sons, Ltd

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/JA-5100-67681


  • bioconversion
  • biojet
  • conventional/advanced biofuels
  • drop-in biofuels
  • thermochemical/biochemical conversion


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