01 March 2010

New Process Yields High-Energy-Density, Plant-Based Transportation Fuel

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A team of University of Wisconsin-Madison engineers has developed a highly efficient, environmentally friendly process that selectively converts gamma-valerolactone, a biomass derivative, into the chemical equivalent of jet fuel

The simple process preserves about 95 percent of the energy from the original biomass, requires little hydrogen input, and captures carbon dioxide under high pressure for future beneficial use.

With James Dumesic, Steenbock Professor of Chemical and Biological Engineering at UW-Madison, postdoctoral researchers Jesse Bond and David Martin Alonso, and graduate students Dong Wang and Ryan West published details of the advance in the Feb. 26 edition of the journal Science.

Much of the Dumesic group's previous research of using cellulosic biomass for biofuels has focused on processes that convert abundant plant-based sugars into transportation fuels. However, in previously studied conversion methods, sugar molecules frequently degrade to form levulinic acid and formic acid - two products the previous methods couldn't readily transform into high-energy liquid fuels.

The team's new method exploits sugar's tendency to degrade. "Instead of trying to fight the degradation, we started with levulinic acid and formic acid and tried to see what we could do using that as a platform," says Dumesic.


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