Sustainable Futures Institute



National Science Foundation Sustainable Energy Pathways (SEP)

Principal Investigator: Dr. David Shonnard
Sponsor: National Science Foundation
Co-PIs: Andrew Burton, Robert E. Froese, Shekhar Joshi (SFRES), Oliver Gailing, Ezra Bar Ziv (MEEM), Michael Mullins (ChE), Jeffrey Naber (MEEM), Dr. Seong-Young Lee (MEEM), Jaclyn Johnson (MEEM), Audrey Mayer(SS-FRES), Wen Zhou (ChE)
Award Amount: $1,800,000
Project Duration: 09/01/2012-08/31/2016
Project Summary:

The four-year Wood to Wheels (W2W) SEP project will conduct transformative, multidisciplinary, comprehensive, and integrated research in the area of forest-based infrastructure-compatible liquid biofuel for vehicular transportation. New knowledge generated will span the entire value chain, from forest biomass production to thermochemical processing, fuel combustion, and systems-level sustainability analyses. Project deliverables will help establish a new forest-based biofuels industry featuring high productivity forest energy crops, sustainable forest management practices, catalysts and process technologies, innovations in engine systems, sustainable decision-making databases, and analysis methods/software tools. Researchers from multiple disciplines will work at the cusp of emerging discoveries to develop new knowledge about complex coupled natural/industrial/societal systems. The project’s research will focus on the production of “infrastructure compatible green diesel” derived from a novel two-stage torrefaction / fast-pyrolysis treatment and catalytic conversion of bio-oil derived from woody feedstocks. The resulting fuel product will be a direct hydrocarbon replacement for fossil diesel. Fundamental combustion and emissions studies using both surrogate and synthesized green diesel will guide catalysis and pyrolysis research to achieve biofuel products with desired compositions and cost-effective engine emissions reduction. Similarly, fundamental research in torrefaction, pyrolysis and catalytic upgrading will inform studies to improve properties of forest feedstocks. Through novel education and training programs, our students – postdoc, Ph.D.s, and undergraduates - will emerge as globally-aware, technically advanced, and innovation-focused engineering and science professionals.

Research is organized into three main thrusts plus a cross-cutting thrust integration activity;

1) Sustainable Forest Systems (forest productivity modeling, sustainability of ecosystem nutrition and productivity, genomics-guided feedstock improvement),

2) Two-Stage Torrefaction/Pyrolysis-Based Conversion Processes (pyrolytic production of bio-oil with catalytic upgrading to an infrastructure-compatible green diesel),

3) Energy Utilization of Advanced Biofuels (spray combustion kinetics, emissions characterization), and

4) Integrated Sustainability Assessment and Decision Making (decision support tools including indicator sets, process simulation and optimization, technoeconomic analyses, life cycle assessment, greenhouse gas analyses and energy balances).

Hypothesis-driven research in the W2W SEP will be conducted in an interconnected fashion, with the goal of producing an infrastructure-compatible green diesel (GD) with system-wide benefits; such as clean combustion in engines (low particulates and NOx), reduced life-cycle greenhouse gas emissions compared to fossil fuel, low cost per gallon, rural job creation, increased energy independence, high productivity per acre of forest biomass, plant genotypes with favorable composition for conversion, and engines optimized to use the prescribed component make-up of the GD.


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Sustainable Futures Institute

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