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Transportation Fuels

Ecolectro, Inc.

Modular UltraStable Alkaline Exchange Ionomers to Enable High Performance Fuel Cells & Electrolyzer Systems

Ecolectro is developing alkaline exchange ionomers (AEIs) to enable low-cost fuel cell and electrolyzer technologies. Ecolectro's AEIs will be resilient to the harsh operating conditions present in existing alkaline exchange membrane devices that prevent their widespread adoption in commercial applications. This technology will be simple, cost effective, and well suited to large-scale processing. Further, membrane electrode assemblies (MEAs) featuring Ecolectro's AEIs will demonstrate comparable durability and improved efficiency over existing state-of-the-art proton exchange membranes without the need in platinum group metals.

Evolva, Inc.

Renewable Platform for Production of Sesquiterpene Aviation Fuels & Fuel Additives from Renewable Feedstocks

Evolva is producing terpenes--energy dense molecules that can be used as high-performance aviation fuels--from simple sugars using engineered microbes. These terpenes will provide better performance than existing petroleum-based aviation fuels. Evolva will draw upon their industrial-scale terpene manufacturing experience to produce aviation sesquiterpenes at a low cost and large scale. Going forward, Evolva will validate the performance of its aviation fuels in unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), and further engineer its process to utilize biomass feedstocks.

Exelus, Inc.

Upgrading Refinery Off-Gas to High-Octane Alkylate

Exelus is developing a method to convert olefins from oil refinery exhaust gas into alkylate, a clean-burning, high-octane component of gasoline. Traditionally, olefins must be separated from exhaust before they can be converted into another source of useful fuel. Exelus' process uses catalysts that convert the olefin to alkylate without first separating it from the exhaust. The ability to turn up to 50% of exhaust directly into gasoline blends could result in an additional 46 million gallons of gasoline in the U.S. each year.

Fearless Fund

Ocean Energy from Macroalgae (OEM): Ranching Sargassum

Fearless Fund will lead a MARINER Category 1 project to design and develop a new system to enable large-scale macroalgae "ranching" using remote sensing, imaging, and modeling technologies. The core concept targets monitoring free-floating, low-impact Sargassum seaweed in the Gulf of Mexico for cost-effective biomass harvest. Fearless Fund's cultivation process is designed to mimic naturally occurring seaweed mats found at the surface of the ocean. The concept leverages the free-floating nature of Sargassum, reducing costs from labor, seeding, and harvesting normally associated with seaweed farming. Fearless Fund will investigate the potential to artificially "seed" circular currents found in the Gulf of Mexico with Sargassum cuttings. The team envisions that Sargassum could be ranched within Gulf currents, where it can grow to maturity at a predicted rate. The circular current transports the crop closer to shore at the projected time of harvest, which is calculated based on historical data. Remote sensing technologies will be used to monitor the crop over a three month cultivation season before harvesting the new crop with barges and tug boats after the uninterrupted initial growing period. By improving these methods and leveraging the wealth of data generated from a suite of sensors, the team hopes that industrial-scale farming of macroalgae can be achieved without capital-intensive infrastructure.

FuelCell Energy, Inc.

Protonic Ceramics for Energy Storage and Electricity Generation with Ammonia

FuelCell Energy will develop an advanced solid oxide fuel cell system capable of generating ammonia from nitrogen and water, and renewable electricity. The unique design will also allow the system to operate in reverse, by converting ammonia and oxygen from air into electricity. A key innovation in this project is the integration of proton-conducting ceramic membranes with new electride catalyst supports to enable an increase in the rate of ammonia production. Combining their catalyst with a calcium-aluminate electride support increases the rate of ammonia formation by reducing coverage of the catalyst surface by hydrogen and allowing the nitrogen to use all of the catalyst area for reactions. The modular nature of this system allows for its deployment closer to the point of use at agricultural and industrial sites, working to both produce ammonia for immediate or delayed use and to use the ammonia to generate electricity after it has been transported to population centers.

Gas Technology Institute

A Novel Catalytic Membrane Reactor for DME Synthesis from Renewable Resources

Gas Technology Institute (GTI) will develop a process for producing dimethyl ether (DME) from renewable electricity, air, and water. DME is a clean-burning fuel that is easily transported as a liquid and can be used as a drop-in fuel in internal combustion engines or directly in DME fuel cells. Ultimately carbon dioxide (CO2) would be captured from sustainable sources, such as biogas production, and fed into a reactor with hydrogen generated from high temperature water splitting. The CO2 and hydrogen react on a bifunctional catalyst to form methanol and a subsequently DME. To improve conversion to DME, GTI will use a novel catalytic membrane reactor with a zeolite membrane. This reactor improves product yield by shifting thermodynamic equilibrium towards product formation and decreases catalyst deactivation and kinetic inhibition due to water formation. The final DME product is separated and the unreacted chemicals are recycled back to the catalytic reactor. Each component of the process is modular, compact, and requires no additional inputs aside from water, CO2, and electricity, while the entire system is designed from the ground up to be compatible with intermittent renewable energy sources.

Gas Technology Institute

Methane to Methanol Fuel: A Low Temperature Process

Gas Technology Institute (GTI) is developing a new process to convert natural gas or methane-containing gas into methanol and hydrogen for liquid fuel. Methanol serves as the main feedstock for dimethyl ether, which could be used for vehicular fuel. Unfortunately, current methods to produce liquid fuels from natural gas require large and expensive facilities that use significant amounts of energy. GTI's process uses metal oxide catalysts that are continuously regenerated in a reactor, similar to a battery, to convert the methane into methanol. These metal oxide catalysts reduce the energy required during the conversion process. This process operates at room temperature, is more energy efficient, and less capital-intensive than existing methods.

Gas Technology Institute

Methane Soft Oxidation

Gas Technology Institute (GTI) will develop a sulfur-based methane oxidation process, known as soft oxidation, to convert methane into liquid fuels and chemicals. Current gas-to-liquid technology for converting methane to liquid hydrocarbons requires massive scale to achieve economic production. The large plant size makes this approach unsuitable to address the challenge of distributed methane emissions. Soft oxidation is a method better suited to address this challenge because of its modular nature. It also addresses a major limitation of conventional gas-to-liquid technology: the irreversible conversion of methane and oxygen to carbon dioxide. In this project, GTI will demonstrate and optimize a two-step methane soft oxidation process and develop a fully integrated system that converts methane to liquid hydrocarbons, recovers the valuable liquids and hydrogen gas, and recycles the remaining products. A key difference with traditional oxygen-based approaches is that GTI's method allows for some hydrogen recovery, whereas in oxygen-based approaches the hydrogen must be consumed completely. Soft oxidation has a higher efficiency because of this, and it lacks the need for complex heat integration and recovery methods that require large scale plants. If successful, this new process could provide an economic pathway to significantly reduce methane emissions through on-site conversion.

Geegah LLC

Integrated Gigahertz Ultrasonic Imager for Soil: Towards Targeted Water and Pesticide Delivery for Biomass Production

Geegah will develop an inexpensive wireless sensor, using ultrasound from MHz to GHz, that can measure water content, soil chemicals, root growth, and nematode pests (a type of small worm), allowing farmers to improve the output of biofuel crops while reducing water and pesticide use. The reusable device will include a sensor suite and radio interface that can communicate to aboveground farm vehicles. This novel integration of sensing and imaging technologies has the potential to provide a low-cost solution to precision sensor-based digital agriculture.

Georgia Tech Research Corporation

Scalable and Robust Zeolitic Imidazolate Framework (ZIF) Membranes Supported on Hollow Fibers for Olefin Separations

Georgia Tech Research Corporation will develop hollow fiber membranes containing metal-organic framework (MOF) thin films to separate propylene from propane. The nanoporous MOF film is supported on the inside surfaces of the tubular polymeric hollow fibers. Chemicals introduced into the center of the tube are separated through the MOF membrane by a molecular sieving process. Traditional olefin production processes are performed at pressures up to 20 bar, requiring large energy and capital costs. A key feature of the team's technology is the ability to synthesize membranes at near-ambient liquid-phase conditions and perform olefin separation at lower pressures as low as 6 bar. As the team evaluates using its MOF membranes to separate propylene from propane, the team will also develop detailed correlations between processing conditions, membrane morphology, and membrane performance. Another important task is to perform a detailed economic evaluation of the technology and establish its economic advantages compared to existing and other proposed technologies. The general separations concept also has potential to be used for a larger range of petrochemical and gas separations.

Giner Inc.

High-Efficiency Ammonia Production from Water and Nitrogen

Giner will develop advanced membrane and catalysts electrolyzer components that can electrochemically generate ammonia using water, nitrogen and intermittent renewable energy sources. Their electrochemical reactor operates at a much lower pressure and temperature than conventional methods, which can lead to significant energy savings. Some of their key innovations include metal nitride catalysts and high temperature poly(aryl piperidinium) anion exchange membranes (AEM) to boost the ammonia production rate and enhance process stability. The components will be integrated into Giner's existing water electrolysis platform to maximize the overall system efficiency. The project team has a diverse set of expertise which it will use to develop advanced catalysts and membranes; to integrate a water electrolyzer that can be easily manufactured; and to perform a techno-economic analysis that addresses the use of renewable energy sources. When completed, the system will decrease ammonia production capital and operating costs significantly compared to conventional processes.

Ginkgo Bioworks

Engineering E. coli as an Electrofuels Chassis for Isooctane Production

Ginkgo Bioworks is bypassing photosynthesis and engineering E. coli to directly use carbon dioxide (CO2) to produce biofuels. E. coli doesn't naturally metabolize CO2, but Ginkgo Bioworks is manipulating and incorporating the genes responsible for CO2 metabolism into the microorganism. By genetically modifying E. coli, Ginkgo Bioworks will enhance its rate of CO2 consumption and liquid fuel production. Ginkgo Bioworks is delivering CO2 to E. coli as formic acid, a simple industrial chemical that provides energy and CO2 to the bacterial system.

GreenLight Biosciences, Inc.

Highly Productive Cell-Free Bioconversion of Methane

GreenLight Biosciences is developing a cell-free bioreactor that can convert large quantities of methane to fuel in one step. This technology integrates biological and chemical processes into a single process by separating and concentrating the biocatalysts from the host microorganisms. This unique "cell-free" approach is anticipated to improve the productivity of the reactor without increasing cost. GreenLight's system can be erected onsite without the need for massive, costly equipment. The process uses natural gas and wellhead pressure to generate the power needed to run the facility. Any carbon dioxide that is released in the process is captured, condensed and pumped back into the well to maintain reservoir pressure and reduce emissions. This technology could enable a scalable, mobile facility that can be transported to remote natural gas wells as needed.

Harvard University

Engineering a Bacterial Reverse Fuel Cell

Harvard University is engineering a self-contained, scalable electrofuels production system that can directly generate liquid fuels from bacteria, carbon dioxide (CO2), water, and sunlight. Harvard is genetically engineering bacteria called Shewanella, so the bacteria can sit directly on electrical conductors and absorb electrical current. This current, which is powered by solar panels, gives the bacteria the energy they need to process CO2 into liquid fuels. The Harvard team pumps this CO2 into the system, in addition to water and other nutrients needed to grow the bacteria. Harvard is also engineering the bacteria to produce fuel molecules that have properties similar to gasoline or diesel fuel--making them easier to incorporate into the existing fuel infrastructure. These molecules are designed to spontaneously separate from the water-based culture that the bacteria live in and to be used directly as fuel without further chemical processing once they're pumped out of the tank.

Harvard University

Mining the Deep Sea for Microbial Ethano- and Propanogenesis

Harvard University will develop new methods to harness naturally occurring microbial communities for the biological production of ethane and propane. Strong indirect evidence suggests that ethane and propane are produced in the ocean by communities of benthic microorganisms in unique deep-sea sediments under specific conditions. The team will target the microbial communities in the ethane- and propane-rich hydrothermal sediments of the Guaymas Basin in the Gulf of California. During the project, the team will recover and characterize seafloor sediment from the basin with the goal of identifying the biological processes underlying ethane and propane production, as well as the geochemical and physical conditions required to stimulate and sustain production. The team will also use a competitiveness analysis to evaluate the industrial relevance and scalability of these processes in a laboratory environment. If successful, this work could contribute significantly to the production of valuable ethane and propane from renewable feedstocks for subsequent production of "green" chemicals, products, and fuels.

Hi Fidelity Genetics LLC

Non-Invasive Field Phenotyping Device for Plant Roots

Hi Fidelity Genetics will develop a low-cost device to measure the characteristics of plant roots and the environmental conditions that affect their development. Their device, called the "RootTracker," is a cylindrical, cage-like structure equipped with sensors on the rings of the cage. Before a seed is planted, farmers can push or twist the RootTracker directly into the soil. A seed is then planted at the top of the cage, allowing the plant to grow naturally while sensors accurately measure root density, growth angles, and growth rates, while having minimal impact on the growth of the plant. The prototype includes additional sensors attached to a removable, reusable rod to monitor environmental conditions. Data gathered by the device can be transmitted wirelessly or recorded internally using a low-cost microcontroller charged by solar power. The main technical challenge is automatically adjusting the calibration of the sensors, which are affected by soil type, soil moisture, and other environmental conditions that can disrupt the signal produced by the sensor. Another challenge is to distinguish between different types of biological matter. The team will also develop software for processing the data generated by the device and conduct laboratory and field tests to assess the performance of the prototype. Data collected by the device will help breeders further optimize root system architecture, which should lead to more energy-efficient crop varieties.

Iowa State University

Scalable Reactor Designs for Catalytic Autothermal Pyrolysis

Iowa State University (ISU) will develop a catalytic autothermal pyrolysis (CAP) process for the production of aromatics and olefins that refiners blend into transportation fuels. Pyrolysis is the decomposition of substances by heating - the same process used to render wood into charcoal, caramelize sugar, and dry roast coffee beans. Traditionally, energy for pyrolysis is provided through indirect heat exchange, employing high temperature heat exchangers within reactors or conveying hot solids into reactors with the feedstock. This approach complicates the design and operation of reactors and requires a separate combustor to burn char, coke, or other fuel to generate the thermal energy. The ISU team plans to use an autothermal fluidized bed reactor, a specialized reactor where a gas is passed through solid granular material at high velocity. Air is used as the fluidizing gas to promote direct, partial combustion of biomass and pyrolysis products to supply the energy required for endothermic operation. This will replace indirect heating methods with direct heating within the reactor, simplifying the design and reducing capital cost while increasing throughput, improving catalyst life, and achieving product yield and quality similar to or greater than current processes. The team seeks to demonstrate CAP in the laboratory and pilot-scale reactors; identify optimal CAP operating conditions to maximize the yield of hydrocarbons; and develop engineering scaling relationships for CAP reactors to facilitate the design of commercial-scale CAP reactors.

Iowa State University

A Genetically Tractable Microalgal Platform for Advanced Biofuel Production

Iowa State University (ISU) is genetically engineering a species of aquatic microalgae called Chlamydomonas for more energy efficient conversion of sunlight and carbon dioxide to biofuels. Current microalgae genetic technologies are imprecise and hinder the rapid engineering of a variety of desirable traits into Chlamydomonas. In the absence of genetic engineering, it remains unlikely that current microalgae technologies for biofuel production will be able to economically compete with traditional fossil fuels. ISU is developing a portfolio of technologies for rapid genetic modification and breeding that will enable greater flexibility for genetic modification on a routine basis. The ISU project will optimize microalgae breeding and genetic engineering to develop efficient, large-scale industrial biofuel production.

Johns Hopkins University

Effect of Adsorption Compression on Catalytic Chemical Reactions

Johns Hopkins University will study the adsorption compression phenomenon for ways to enhance the reaction rate for commercially relevant reactions. Adsorption is the adhesion of molecules from a gas, liquid, or dissolved solid to a surface, creating layers of the "adsorbate" on the surface of the host material. The Johns Hopkins team will explore the physical state where the forces acting parallel to the surface of adsorbate molecules can in certain conditions be far higher than forces associated with adsorption of additional molecules on the surface. This phenomenon is called adsorption compression. This compression is important because it leads to a strain in intramolecular bonds and can change the activation energy for many chemical reactions - which can alter reaction pathways, increase reactivity, or improve selectivity for desired products. The team plans to explore this phenomenon as a method to improve the efficiency of commercial catalytic systems.

Johns Hopkins University


Johns Hopkins will scale up a novel process to convert natural gas into hydrogen and solid carbon with no water input while reducing carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. Leveraging industrial partners Southern Company and Cabot Corporation, the team will scale up its cyclic process based on early laboratory demonstration. ETCH, INC, is commercializing the process, which is expected to produce H2 from NG at costs comparable to the state-of-the art commercial technologies, while lowering energy input, reducing CO2 emissions, and producing high-value pure carbon materials.


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