Technoeconomic and Life-Cycle Analysis of Single-Step Catalytic Conversion of Wet Ethanol into Fungible Fuel Blendstocks

Thomas Foust, Gregg Beckham, Ling Tao, John Hannon, Charles Wyman, Lee Lynd, Mark Laser, Onofre Andrade, Pahola Benavides, Michael Wang, Nathan Brown, Mateus Chagas, Tassia Junqueira, Brian Davison, Zhenglong Li, Gerald Tuskan, Tom Richard, Jeremy Woods, Mary Biddy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

30 Scopus Citations


Technoeconomic and life-cycle analyses are presented for catalytic conversion of ethanol to fungible hydrocarbon fuel blendstocks, informed by advances in catalyst and process development. Whereas prior work toward this end focused on 3-step processes featuring dehydration, oligomerization, and hydrogenation, the consolidated alcohol dehydration and oligomerization (CADO) approach described here results in 1-step conversion of wet ethanol vapor (40 wt% in water) to hydrocarbons and water over a metal-modified zeolite catalyst. A development project increased liquid hydrocarbon yields from 36% of theoretical to >80%, reduced catalyst cost by an order of magnitude, scaled up the process by 300-fold, and reduced projected costs of ethanol conversion 12-fold. Current CADO products conform most closely to gasoline blendstocks, but can be blended with jet fuel at low levels today, and could potentially be blended at higher levels in the future. Operating plus annualized capital costs for conversion of wet ethanol to fungible blendstocks are estimated at $2.00/GJ for CADO today and $1.44/GJ in the future, similar to the unit energy cost of producing anhydrous ethanol from wet ethanol ($1.46/GJ). Including the cost of ethanol from either corn or future cellulosic biomass but not production incentives, projected minimum selling prices for fungible blendstocks produced via CADO are competitive with conventional jet fuel when oil is $100 per barrel but not at $60 per barrel. However, with existing production incentives, the projected minimum blendstock selling price is competitive with oil at $60 per barrel. Life-cycle greenhouse gas emission reductions for CADO-derived hydrocarbon blendstocks closely follow those for the ethanol feedstock.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)12576-12583
Number of pages8
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number23
StatePublished - 2020

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/JA-5100-74724


  • Ethanol
  • Heterogeneous catalysis
  • Low-carbon fungible fuel blendstocks


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