Performance-Advantaged Ether Diesel Bioblendstock Production by a Priori Design

Derek Vardon, Nabila Huq, Xiangchen Huo, Glenn Hafenstine, Stephen Tifft, James Stunkel, Earl Christensen, Gina Fioroni, Robert McCormick, Matthew Wiatrowski, Teresa Alleman, Peter St. John, Seon Ah Kim, Patrick Cherry, Charles McEnally, Lisa Pfefferle, P. Benavides, Raynella Connatser, Michael Kass, Lisa FoutsMary Biddy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

38 Scopus Citations


Lignocellulosic biomass offers a renewable carbon source which can be anaerobically digested to produce short-chain carboxylic acids. Here, we assess fuel properties of oxygenates accessible from catalytic upgrading of these acids a priori for their potential to serve as diesel bioblendstocks. Ethers derived from C2 and C4 carboxylic acids are identified as advantaged fuel candidates with significantly improved ignition quality (>56% cetane number increase) and reduced sooting (>86% yield sooting index reduction) when compared to commercial petrodiesel. The prescreening process informed conversion pathway selection toward a C11 branched ether, 4-butoxyheptane, which showed promise for fuel performance and health- and safety-related attributes. A continuous, solvent-free production process was then developed using metal oxide acidic catalysts to provide improved thermal stability, water tolerance, and yields. Liter-scale production of 4- butoxyheptane enabled fuel property testing to confirm predicted fuel properties, while incorporation into petrodiesel at 20 vol % demonstrated 10% improvement in ignition quality and 20% reduction in intrinsic sooting tendency. Storage stability of the pure bioblendstock and 20 vol % blend was confirmed with a common fuel antioxidant, as was compatibility with elastomeric components within existing engine and fueling infrastructure. Technoeconomic analysis of the conversion process identified major cost drivers to guide further research and development. Life-cycle analysis determined the potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 50 to 271% relative to petrodiesel, depending on treatment of coproducts.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)26421-26430
Number of pages10
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number52
StatePublished - 26 Dec 2019

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019 National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/JA-5100-74902


  • Biofuel
  • Biooxygenate
  • Life-cycle analysis
  • Solvent-free
  • Technoeconomic analysis


Dive into the research topics of 'Performance-Advantaged Ether Diesel Bioblendstock Production by a Priori Design'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this