Renewable Nitrile Precursors for Lightweight Fibers and Polymers

National Laboratory: 
National Renewable Energy Laboratory
Processing/Manufacturing Class: 
Fabrication and synthesis

NREL hosts a fully automated reactor system with tandem reactor beds, designed for the production of acrylonitrile or other nitrile compounds from bio-derived feedstocks. The reactor system implements state-of-the-art safety features, allowing operators to safely and remotely run hazardous reactions, such as ammoxidation, that may produce toxic byproducts. Online gas-phase Fourier transform infrared (FTIR) spectroscopy is present, allowing real-time monitoring of reaction products. This online monitoring system enables rapid catalyst screening; determination of catalytic activities; rapid optimization of reaction conditions; and measurement of fundamental reaction parameters, such as activation energies and reaction orders. A distinct feature of this system is the ability to safely collect, and store nitrile precursors that can be further used for the synthesis of polymers and fibers. NREL also holds capability in using these collected nitriles to synthesize polymer coupons for material testing applications. Overall, this instrument is a critical link in enabling NREL researchers to complete the entire sequence of processing steps from renewable biomass to a final polymer or fiber end product.

Capability Bounds: 

Reactor system is sized to produce up to 100 g of product per 24-hour run. These amounts of nitrogen-containing precursors allow the subsequent synthesis of testable polymer products.

Unique Aspects: 

This capability affords the ability to handle hazardous reactions relevant to the synthesis of nitrogen-containing compounds at moderate scales, as well as real-time reaction products analysis and the ability to collect, store, and transfer reaction products from NREL to collaborating institutions, or for synthesis of polymer materials in house.


The capability is in use for the Renewable Carbon Fiber Consortium (RCFC) through 2017.

Single Point of Contact: 

Eric M. Karp, Research Engineer,, 303-384-7997

Supporting Document(s):