Evaluating Cu/BEA Catalyst Performance with Techno-Economic Analysis to Develop a Market-Responsive Biorefinery Concept Around the Conversion of Methanol to High-Octane Hydrocarbons

Daniel Ruddy, Jesse Hensley, Connor Nash, Eric Tan, Earl Christensen, Carrie Farberow, Joshua Schaidle

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review


A recent advancement in the conversion of methanol to hydrocarbon fuels is the development of a Cu-modified beta zeolite catalyst (Cu/BEA) that exhibits a higher productivity and yield than the parent H-form BEA catalyst in the production of branched C4-C8 hydrocarbons. This Cu/BEA catalyst enables process improvements in the High-Octane Gasoline (HOG) pathway, which operates under lower severity conditions than traditional methanol-to-fuels processes, offering a lower coke formation rate, higher selectivity to C5+gasoline-range hydrocarbons, and subsequently, improved process economics based on a recent process model and techno-economic analysis (TEA). Here, a market-responsive biorefinery concept around methanol and the HOG pathway is presented, where the major C4 products, isobutane and isobutene, serve as versatile intermediates that can either be recycled to increase the yield of the HOG product or directed to jet-fuel range hydrocarbons. Based on simulated recycle experiments with 13C-labeled isobutane, the Cu/BEA catalyst achieved increased yield to the HOG products during DME homologation by activating the co-fed isobutane and incorporating it into the chain growth pathway, as evidenced by the presence of isotopically-labeled 13C in C5+ products. Olefin coupling of an isobutene-rich mixture was also investigated, and the fuel properties of the resulting synthetic kerosene product were within the specifications for a typical jet-fuel. These experimental results were incorporated into an updated Aspen-based process model and TEA to quantify their impact on a market-responsive biorefinery concept. The improvements offered by C4 recycling with the Cu/BEA catalyst result in a decrease in the methanol-to-fuel synthesis cost from 101 cents per gallon of gasoline equivalent (GGE) with the baseline BEA catalyst to 72 cents/GGE, due in part to a significantly increased HOG yield from 40 to 55 GGE/dry-ton biomass. Expanding the process model to direct C4 products to a jet-range hydrocarbon product demonstrated a yield of 42 GGE/dry-ton HOG with 12 GGE/dry-ton distillate, resulting in a minor increase in the fuel synthesis cost to 77 cents/GGE versus the HOG-only case. With continued development, these advancements in fuel yield and reductions in cost position a market-responsive biorefinery around the HOG pathway to be competitive against mature fuel-synthesis technologies from a variety of carbon sources through methanol.
Original languageAmerican English
Number of pages2
StatePublished - 2019
Event12th Natural Gas Conversion Symposium 2019 - San Antonio, United States
Duration: 2 Jun 20196 Jun 2019


Conference12th Natural Gas Conversion Symposium 2019
Country/TerritoryUnited States
CitySan Antonio

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/CP-5100-75692


  • catalysts
  • hydrocarbon fuels
  • methanol


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