Kinetics and Reactor Modeling of VFA Ketonization for Sustainable Aviation Fuel Production

Jacob Miller, Glenn Hafenstine, Hannah Nguyen, Derek Vardon

Research output: NRELPresentation


Ketonization of volatile fatty acids (VFAs) produced via arrested methanogenesis of wet waste represents the only unit operation of wet waste upgrading to sustainable (net-zero or negative life cycle CO2 emissions) aviation fuel not currently in industrial practice. Ketone product yields of close to 100% have been obtained during gas-phase reactions of VFAs over oxide catalysts at the laboratory scale, but design of an industrial ketonization reactor requires understanding of the impacts of reactant and product partial pressures, deactivation, and heat and mass transport phenomena on observed ketonization rates. Our work leverages rigorous kinetic analysis of ketonization processes to inform reactor scale-up efforts through packed-bed reactor modeling. We first present results of a kinetic study of ketonization of a model VFA, hexanoic acid, over an industrial ZrO2 catalyst performed in a packed-bed microreactor in conditions free of significant heat or mass transfer gradients. Major findings of the analysis include: (i) hexanoic acid saturates all catalyst active sites at relatively low partial pressure (~10 kPa) and (ii) ketonization products 6-undecanone, water, and CO2 inhibit reaction rates. Kinetic data are used to fit a rate expression quantifying the functional dependence of ketonization rate on partial pressures of VFA reactants and ketone, water, and CO2 products. A packed-bed reactor model describing vapor-phase hexanoic acid ketonization over ZrO2 extrudate catalysts is developed based on the kinetic model. The effects of (i) bed- and pellet-scale mass- and heat-transfer limitations and (ii) axial pressure drop guide our development of recommendations for optimal sizing, temperature, and influent flow composition of an industrial-scale ketonization reactor. The quantitative understanding of VFA ketonization developed in this study represents an advance toward derisking the VFA ketonization step of wet waste upgrading to sustainable aviation fuel.
Original languageAmerican English
Number of pages20
StatePublished - 2021

Publication series

NamePresented at the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE) Annual Meeting, 15-19 November 2021

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/PR-5100-80795


  • biojet
  • ketonization
  • kinetics
  • reactor design
  • sustainable aviation fuel
  • VFA


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