Pumping up the Yield of Biofuels

A scalable catalytic process improves the yield of biofuels by 40%.

Schematic of catalytic fast pyrolysis
Image courtesy of Dion Vlachos
Schematic of catalytic fast pyrolysis. Biomass is fed into a fluidized-bed reactor where it is decomposed thermally to form pyrolysis vapors. These vapors are converted into desired aromatic compounds using a novel, inexpensive zeolite-based catalyst.

The Science

Researchers combined an advanced catalyst with a next-generation biofuel process to improve the yield of biofuels by 40% compared to conventional methods.

The Impact

A new process - catalytic fast pyrolysis (CFP) - is rapidly moving from the research laboratory to the technology development stage. At full scale-up, CFP could contribute to the petrochemicals industry, valued at an estimated $400 billion annually.


Catalytic fast pyrolysis (CFP) is a promising technology for the production of renewable aromatic compounds, including commercially important chemicals such as benzene, toluene, and xylenes, directly from solid biomass. In this single-step process, biomass, including wood, agricultural wastes and fast-growing energy crops, is fed into a fluidized-bed reactor where the biomass thermally decomposes to form pyrolysis vapors, the gases released from the processing. These pyrolysis vapors then enter the zeolite catalysts, which are also in the fluidized-bed reactor, and are converted into the desired aromatic compounds and olefins, types of hydrocarbon, along with carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, water, and coke, a high-carbon fuel. The spent catalyst and coke are sent to a regenerator where they are burned. The advantages of the new process are: 1) all the desired chemistry occurs in one single reactor, 2) the process uses an inexpensive silica–alumina catalyst, and 3) aromatics and olefins are produced that fit easily into existing infrastructures.  Research was performed at the University of Massachusetts as a part of the Catalysis Center for Energy Innovation EFRC, and has been licensed to Annelotech.


George W. Huber
University of Wisconsin-Madison

Dion Vlachos
Director of the Catalysis Center for Energy Innovation EFRC


DOE Office of Science Basic Energy Sciences program, Energy Frontier Research Centers (EFRC) Program.


Cheng, Yu-Ting; Jae, J.; Shi, Jian; Fan, Wei; and Huber, George W. “Production of Renewable Aromatic Compounds by Catalytic Fast Pyrolysis of Lignocellulosic Biomass with Bifunctional Ga/ZSM-5 Catalysts”Angew. Chem. Int. Ed., 124, 1416-1419 (2012). [DOI: 10.1002/ange.201107390]

Related Links

UMass Amherst, College of Engineering News

Biofuels Digest

Innovations Report 


Catalysis Center for Energy Innovation EFRC

Highlight Categories

Program: BES , EFRCs

Performer: University

Additional: Technology Impact