Light Hydrocarbon Fuel from Biomass/Syngas for Chemical, Polymer Industry

Technology #12549

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alkane, alkene hydrocarbon fuel conversionBiomass feedstock can come from paper, wood, forest residueFermenting biomass to create hydrogen or light hydrocarbon fuels
Curt Fischer
Department of Chemical Engineering, MIT
Andrew Peterson
Department of Chemical Engineering, MIT
Managed By
Jim Freedman
MIT Technology Licensing Officer - Chemicals, Instruments, Consumer Products
Patent Protection

Conversion of natural products including cellulose to hydrocarbons, hydrogen and/or other related compounds

US Patent 8,546,625

This efficient, cost-effective process creates light hydrocarbon fuels like propylene or propane from biomass or syngas feedstock. The two-step process converts a wide area of biomass sugars and carbohydrates into fuels or new feedstock for the chemical and polymer industry. 

At present, there is no cheap and easy way to convert biomass to hydrocarbon fuel without having to completely degrade the biomass. This process uses fermentation and dehydration to create hydrocarbon fuel, a much faster and less expensive alternative. In addition, this process shows a significant reduction in separation costs compared to creating leading biofuels like ethanol because the end products are generally not water soluble.  

The national focus on developing domestic sources for fuels and chemicals and the fact that this technology can be used with existing distribution infrastructure ensures a market for this renewable fuel source. 

Two-Step Process Converts Sugars/Carbohydrates to Light Hydrocarbon Fuel

The first step ferments carbohydrates like glucose and xylose to a carboxylic acid or a similar intermediary. In the second step, the acid is subjected to hydrothermal decarboxylation and/or dehydration to yield light alkanes and alkenes. The process can be altered to include an additional step in the which the intermediate chemicals are concentrated, diluted, or otherwise purified. 

The process has been tested by successfully converting biologically derived poly hydroxybutyrate to propylene. 


  • Hydrocarbons as fuels or feedstocks for the chemical and polymer industries  


  • Direct route from biomass to alkanes/alkenes, saving time and money in the fuel creation process
  • Provides significant reduction in separation costs, as compared to the leading biofuel (i.e., ethanol)
  • Produces fuel with existing distribution infrastructure and market
  • Feedstock can be a wide variety of fermentable sugars