Risk Minimization in Scale-Up of Biomass and Waste Carbon Upgrading Processes

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Improving the odds and pace of successful biomass and waste carbon utilization technology scale-up is crucial to decarbonizing key industries such as aviation and materials within timelines required to meet global climate goals. In this perspective, we review deficiencies commonly encountered during scale-up to show that many nascent technology developers place too much focus on simply demonstrating that technologies work in progressively larger units ("profit") without expending enough up-front research effort to identify and derisk roadblocks to commercialization (collecting "information") to inform the design of these units. We combine this conclusion with economic and timeline data collected from technology scale-up and piloting operations at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) to motivate a more scientific, risk-minimized approach to biomass and waste carbon upgrading scale-up. Our proposed approach emphasizes maximizing information collection in the smallest, most agile, and least expensive experimental setups possible, emulating the mentality embraced by R&D across the petrochemical industry. Key points are supported by examples of successful and unsuccessful scale-up efforts undertaken at NREL and elsewhere. We close by showing that the U.S. national laboratory system is uniquely well equipped to serve as a hub to facilitate effective scale-up of promising biomass and waste carbon upgrading technologies.
Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)666-679
Number of pages14
JournalACS Sustainable Chemistry and Engineering
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2024

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/JA-5100-87472


  • biomass
  • decarbonization
  • derisking
  • engineering
  • scale-up
  • waste carbon


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