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HOUSTON — Exxon Mobil Corp. and the University of Wisconsin-Madison finalized a two-year agreement to research the fundamental chemistry of converting biomass into transportation fuels as part of a broad effort to identify meaningful and scalable solutions to meet the increasing global energy demand.
The project leverages the university's expertise alongside the resources and technology development of ExxonMobil. George Huber, the Harvey D. Spangler professor of chemical and biological engineering at UW-Madison, is working with ExxonMobil scientists to build a stronger understanding of the basic chemical transformations that occur during biomass conversion into diesel and jet fuels, the oil company announced.
"The science of biomass conversion is very complicated," Huber stated. "In this project, we are doing the long-term fundamental research to understand the chemistry involved in the catalytic process of converting biomass into diesel and jet fuel. Our goal is to generate knowledge about what's possible and what's not possible."
The project also enables extensive collaboration between ExxonMobil scientists and UW-Madison students, who will gain experience collaborating with an industrial partner.
Researchers have used precious metal catalysts such as platinum for biomass conversion, while Huber's group has been working to develop new catalytic materials that are orders of magnitude cheaper than precious metal catalysts.
"The challenge is to make biomass-derived fuels cost competitive with petroleum-derived diesel fuels," said Huber, who is also affiliated with the Wisconsin Energy Institute at UW-Madison.
The agreement with UW-Madison is the most recent in a series of research partnerships established by ExxonMobil as part of its ongoing activities to explore early-stage innovative projects through partnerships with leading universities around the world. Other partners include the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Princeton University, Michigan State University, Northwestern University, Stanford University and Iowa State University.
"This agreement continues ExxonMobil's commitment to partner with top universities and scientists to research and discover next-generation energy solutions," said Vijay Swarup, vice president of research and development for ExxonMobil Research & Engineering Co. "We are continuously investigating new ideas and technologies, and we are looking forward to working with the team at the University of Wisconsin on this project."