A team from Iowa State University and ConocoPhillips, Biofuels R&D performed a techno-economic study examining the fast pyrolysis of corn stover to bio-oil with subsequent upgrading of the bio-oil to naphtha and diesel range fuels.

While calculated costs of this biofuel are competitive with other kinds of alternative fuels, they found, further research is required to better determine the effect of feedstock properties and process conditions on the ultimate yield of liquid fuel from bio-oil.

They developed two 2,000 dry tonne per day scenarios: the first scenario separates a fraction of the bio-oil to generate hydrogen on-site for fuel upgrading, while the second scenario relies on merchant hydrogen.

The modeling effort resulted in liquid fuel production rates of 134 and 220 million liters (35 and 58 million gallons US) per year for the hydrogen production and purchase scenarios, respectively. Capital costs for these plants are $287 and $200 million. Fuel product value estimates are $3.09 and $2.11 per gallon of gasoline equivalent ($0.82 and $0.56 per liter).

Pioneer plant analysis estimates capital costs to be $911 and $585 million for construction of a first-of-a-kind fast pyrolysis and upgrading biorefinery with product values of $6.55 and $3.41 per gge ($1.73 and $0.90 per liter).

In 2007, ConocoPhillips established an eight-year, $22.5-million research program at Iowa State University dedicated to developing technologies that produce bio renewable fuels. (Earlier post.)

In 2009, a consortium including TI International, ADM, Albemarle and ConocoPhillips was awarded $3.1-million ARPA-E grant to develop a novel single-step catalytic biomass pyrolysis process with high carbon conversion efficiency to produce stable bio-crude oil with low oxygen content. The technology seeks to combine pyrolysis oil production, stabilization, and upgrading into one process, creating the potential to reduce the demand for imported oil and reducing greenhouse gas emissions by displacing fossil fuels with biofuels. (Earlier post.)


  • Mark M. Wright, Darren E. Dullard, Justin us A. Sa trio and Robert C. Brown (2010) Techno-economic analysis of biomass fast pyrolysis to transportation fuels. Fuel. doi: 10.1016/JFE