Techno-Economic Assessment for the Production of Hydrocarbon Fuels via Catalytic Upgrading of Furans

Research output: NRELTechnical Report


This technical report documents the techno-economic analysis (TEA) implications of a biochemical/catalytic pathway for the production of long-chain hydrocarbon fuels in support to the multi-lab Catalytic Upgrading of Biochemical Intermediates (CUBI) project within the Chemical Catalysis for Bioenergy Consortium (ChemCatBio). Two distinct conceptual biorefineries centered around the process encompassing sugar dehydration to furans, aldol condensation between furans and a ketone (methyl ethyl ketone [MEK]), and a final step of hydrotreating to obtain hydrocarbons in the C14-C16 range are considered: an integrated plant that simultaneously produces both furans (furfural and HMF) and ketone (MEK via 2,3-butanediol [BDO]) from sugars and a dedicated facility focused on producing furans from corn stover hydrolysate and procuring the ketone externally. In either plant, the main coproducts are adipic acid (derived from lignin) and sodium sulfate. The results from the assessment are quite comparable to those reported in previous design case focused on biological conversion of sugars to fermentation intermediates with subsequent catalytic upgrading of those intermediates to hydrocarbon fuels, thus presenting another viable alternative pathway to achieve similar fuel cost targets through purely catalytic upgrading of sugars. Since this study considers long-term performance targets for the full pathway dedicated to sugar upgrading to fuels, the critical remaining research points needed to achieve future cost goals are also discussed. Finally, this report presents a single-point sensitivity analysis around selected parameters to identify the major cost drivers of the biorefineries and provides a qualitative discussion on additional opportunities for cost reduction within the proposed concepts, namely through adding value to furans, to coproducts that may be obtained following BDO dehydration, and to lignin through alternative pathways.
Original languageAmerican English
Number of pages80
StatePublished - 2021

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/TP-5100-80652


  • coproducts
  • drop-in hydrocarbon fuels
  • fuel blendstocks
  • furans
  • process simulation
  • production economics
  • techno-economic assessment


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