RESEARCH: Development of Biomass-Derived Drop-In Fuels for Renewable Gasoline, Diesel, and Jet Fuel Production 


The research team has developed a proprietary thermochemical process that can convert cellulosic biomass and non-food vegetable oil to hydrocarbon based drop-in biofuels.  These drop-in fuels are compatible with petroleum hydrocarbons and can be directly dropped into existing petroleum refineries for the production of “green” gasoline, diesel, and jet fuels.  The successful production of renewable transportation fuels will have significant positive impacts on national energy security, rural economic growth, and the environment.


Feedstock Processing and Conversion

  • Researchers invented a proprietary and accurately controlled catalytic fast pyrolysis reactor (Fig. 1A).  They established an efficient thermochemical process with capability to convert cellulosic biomass (such as corn stover, switchgrass, prairie cordgrass, sawdust, etc.) to crude bio-oil (Fig. 1B) which can then be upgraded to drop-in fuels (Fig. 1C).SunGrant Feedstock Processing
  • The group developed an efficient catalytic biofuel synthesis platform to upgrade crude bio-oil and non-food vegetable oil (from oilseed crops such as those shown in Figure 2) to high quality drop-in biofuels.
    SunGrant Oilseed Crops 
  • Utilizing this proprietary process, researchers have shown the quality of biofuels produced from corn stover and non-food vegetable oil to be comparable to petroleum-derived liquid fuels.
  • Researchers developed catalyst systems to improve efficiency of catalytic fast pyrolysis and bio-oil upgrading.  They were able to reduce processing costs to less than $3.00 per gallon, thus meeting the Department of Energy cost goals.

Process Commercialization

  • Potential development of regional pyrolysis conversion plants may significantly impact rural economies.  These conversion plants will provide local jobs in locations where there is a sufficient supply of biomass.  Figure 3 illustrates the roadmap of local biomass conversion to renewable transportation fuels.
    SunGrant ProcessCommercialization
  • Wei and Julson filed a provisional United States patent for the proprietary reactor and process.
  • Researchers established a startup company, Thermo-Ag LLC, to explore opportunities for scaling up technologies and commercialization. Thermo-Ag LLC is focused on producing drop-in liquid fuels that meet commercial and military specifications using agricultural residues.  The team plans to scale up the technologies to 3 ton per day with a yield rate of 90 gallons/ton of advanced biofuels in the next two years.
  • The team is exploring the possibility of external funding support from an industrial partner.  Wei and Julson are working on a license with a foreign investor for scaling up the process to commercialization.
  • Wei and Julson are one step closer to commercialization through proof-of-concept funding from the North Central Regional Sun Grant Center.  They will work on improving the efficiency of Wei’s patent-pending fast pyrolysis reactor.  Through this work, they can improve both the quality and quantity of drop-in fuel this process produces.


This research was supported by funding from the North Central Regional Sun Grant Center at South Dakota State University through grants provided by; 1) the US Department of Energy Office of Biomass Programs under award number DE-FG36-08GO88073, 2) the US Department of Defense, Army Research Lab, Office of the Secretary, Grant No.  W911NF-09-2-0024, and 3) the US Department of Transportation, Office of the Secretary, Grant No.  DTOS59-07-G-00054.

SunGrant Logo and Seals

SDSU James JulsonProject Director:
Dr. Lin Wei
Asst. Professor, SDSU
SDSU James JulsonCo-Investigator:
Dr. James Julson
Professor, SDSU


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