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Poplar trees like these may someday be made into "green gasoline".
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U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science/Oak Ridge National Laboratory

Money Doesn't Grow on Trees, But Gasoline Might
News story originally written on April 7, 2008

What if the gasoline that came out of the pump wasn't made from fossil fuels that formed over millions of years? What if it was made from trees or grasses that could be grown again and again?

The idea of using plants as fuel isn't new. For thousands of years wood has been burned to warm houses and cook food. Now scientists are taking another look at how plants could be used to make “green gasoline.” Inventions like this one are helping us find ways to prevent the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere from growing.

George Huber and two of his engineering students are getting closer to solving the puzzle. They have figured out how to transform plants into some of the ingredients of gasoline.

Cooking up the ingredients of gasoline in their lab at University of Massachusetts, George Huber and his students heated and then cooled parts of plants with materials that speed up chemical reactions.

One of the interesting things about this is that it does not take any extra energy to make the fuel. During the reaction that makes the gasoline ingredients, heat is released, which can be used to make electricity. So making this “green gasoline” may be carbon neutral.

Last modified May 7, 2008 by Lisa Gardiner.

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Windows to the Universe, a project of the National Earth Science Teachers Association, is sponsored in part is sponsored in part through grants from federal agencies (NASA and NOAA), and partnerships with affiliated organizations, including the American Geophysical Union, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the Earth System Information Partnership, the American Meteorological Society, the National Center for Science Education, and TERC. The American Geophysical Union and the American Geosciences Institute are Windows to the Universe Founding Partners. NESTA welcomes new Institutional Affiliates in support of our ongoing programs, as well as collaborations on new projects. Contact NESTA for more information. NASA ESIP NCSE HHMI AGU AGI AMS NOAA