Enerkem produces new high-octane biofuel from waste

Enerkem's waste-to-biofuels facility in Edmonton. Image: Enerkem Inc.

Enerkem Inc. has produced a new high-performance biofuel that it says could improve the octane rating of fuels sold on the market and reduce their carbon footprint.

The chemical engineering group at Enerkem's Innovation Centre in Westbury, Quebec, enabled the company to successfully develop a process that uses its proprietary waste-to-biofuel technology to produce the new biofuel with a Research Octane Number (RON) of up to 112. That is 20 points higher than the average octane rating found in regular motor gasoline.

By using bio-dimethyl ether (Bio-DME), a product derived from Enerkem's biomethanol, combined with a DME-to-high-octane-gasoline catalyst developed by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) in the United States, the Enerkem-NREL team were the first to demonstrate at pilot scale the production of an alternative fuel rich in paraffins, the company said.

The Montreal-based company’s technology converts non-recyclable, non-compostable municipal solid waste into methanol, ethanol and other widely-used chemicals. Enerkem operates a full-scale commercial facility in Edmonton.

"It's a major breakthrough that could enable the development of a new non-oxygenated biofuel made from waste on a commercial scale," Stéphane Marie-Rose, director of Enerkem's Innovation Centre, said in a statement.

"Through the very selective catalytic reaction achieved using our waste-to-biofuels process, we have formed paraffinic molecules, such as triptane, whose properties already contain a high-octane rating, thereby increasing the volume of paraffins when used as an additive in a conventional fuel."

In addition to environmental and economic upsides, there are many possible applications for a high-octane biofuel, said Enerkem. The non-oxygenated additive could serve the specialized fuels market, such as the aviation gasoline and professional motorsport sector. As with the biomethanol and advanced ethanol produced today at commercial scale by Enerkem, the new biofuel allows better combustion, replaces fossil fuels and reduces greenhouse gas emissions.

Enerkem's Innovation Centre intends to build on the technological advancement by further developing and optimizing the process as well as evaluating the potential commercial applications in the coming months.