Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Biofuel breakthrough

By Clive Cookson
Published: February 26 2010 01:58

Breakthrough on converting biofuel
Biofuels made from wood, grass and agricultural wastes such as corn stalks are environmentally attractive because, unlike crops such as maize and sugar grown primarily to produce fuels, they do not take over good farmland. The trouble is that, until now, these “cellulosic biofuels” have been hard to convert into useful liquid fuels.
Researchers at the University of Wisconsin report a breakthrough on Friday in the journal Science. Their two-step chemical conversion turns waste biomass efficiently into liquid hydrocarbons that could fuel vehicle or jet engines.
The process turns biomass first into a chemical called gamma-valerolactone or GVL, which in turn is converted into jet fuel hydrocarbons. This preserves 95 per cent of the energy from the original biomass, while the waste carbon dioxide can be captured under high pressure for storage or burial underground.
“The hydrocarbons produced from GVL in this new process are chemically equivalent to those used in the present [transport] infrastructure,” said David Martin Alonso, a member of the Wisconsin research team. “The product we make is ready for the jet fuel application and can be added to existing hydrocarbon blends, as needed.”