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A new type of green fuel spontaneously separates from water. This requires very little energy for processing compared with the energy-intensive process of distillation required for ethanol purification.
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Image Courtesy of Virent Energy Systems, Inc.

From Sugar to Gasoline
News story originally written on September 17, 2008

Two research teams have announced that they have successfully converted sugar, from agricultural waste and non-food plants, into gasoline, diesel, jet fuel, and other valuable chemicals. Engineers have announced that that sugars and carbohydrates can be processed like petroleum into many different products used by the fuel, pharmaceutical and chemical industries.

The key to the breakthrough is a process called aqueous phase reforming. In passing a watery slurry of plant-derived sugar and carbohydrates over a series of catalysts (materials that speed up reactions without sacrificing themselves in the process), carbon-rich organic molecules split apart into component elements that recombine to form many of the chemicals that are extracted from non-renewable petroleum.

This type of green gasoline is one of the second generation biofuel alternatives, and these fuels are generating interest because they can be made from plants grown in poor soils, like switchgrass, or from agricultural waste.

Engineers need several more years to refine this process and make it ready for general use. But the promise of getting gasoline from renewable plants makes this an important development. Biofuels can add to solar and wind power in reducing the need for nonrenewable resources like petroleum.

Last modified October 2, 2008 by Becca Hatheway.

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