Petrochemical giant ExxonMobil and the University of Wisconsin-Madison (UW-Madison) have extended their agreement to research by two more years for conversion of biomass into transportation fuel.

In the last couple of years, their research had put focus on multistep approach for the conversion of cellulosic biomass into cellulosic biomass. Now, the partners plan to come up with a new method which can potentially cut down the processing steps.

For this, ExxonMobil and UW-Madison are looking to use solvents for the new approach which have the potential to dissolve the entire biomass. As a result, there is also a possibility for deriving fuel-sized molecules from the conversion of whole biomass in a single reactor, stated the research partners.

The research is part of a bigger effort to find out scalable and commercially viable solutions to help address the growing global demand to generate energy from a renewable resource.

It combines the biomass conversion expertise of the university with the resources and technological capabilities held by ExxonMobil.

ExxonMobil Research & Engineering Company research and development vice president Vijay Swarup said: “The renewal of our agreement with the University of Wisconsin-Madison will continue ExxonMobil’s work with top universities and scientists to discover and advance next-generation energy solutions.

“We look forward to continuing our collaboration with the university as we enhance our scientific understanding of advanced biofuels and explore potential new technologies.”

The research project will have scientists looking to develop a much better understanding of the basic chemical transformations that result from the biomass conversion into jet and diesel fuels.

It will also study another process which involves the catalytic transformation of bio-derived ethanol into bio-derived jet fuel and diesel. If successful, the process has the potential to produce larger diesel and jet fuel molecules from renewable sources like corn stover and other cellulosic feedstocks.

UW-Madison chemical and biological engineering Harvey D. Spangler professor George Huber said: “Biofuels have the potential to become a significant option for meeting growing global demand for diesel and jet fuel if low cost and scalable technologies can be developed.

“The focus of this fundamental research is to demonstrate technologies that could make such a scenario possible. We expect to use the same type of catalytic technologies that are already used in the petrochemical industry to convert oil into fuels and chemicals.”

Image: Biofuel picture from La Jolla. La Jolla is biotech mecca…. Photo courtesy of Steve Jurvetson/Wikimedia Commons.