Greenbang was never overly keen on chemistry at school. Melting rulers over bunsen burners and giving biros acid baths were her favourite activities in the lab. Perhaps if she’d applied herself a bit, she could’ve found herself at the forefront of biochemical engineering inventing a green fuel like a team of boffs has been doing at the University of Massachussetts-Amherst (that’s UMass to the likes of us) who have probably got flamey with a few rulers nonetheless.
The researchers claim to have created a ‘green gasoline’ that’s chemically identical to your regular oil-derived gasoline – or petrol to the likes of us – but made from sustainable biomass sources like switchgrass and poplar trees. Yet another team of researchers, this time from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, have cooked up a process for manufacturing jet fuel, again using the green petrol approach.
The green petrol manufacturing process works by heating cellulose alongside special catalysts, then rapidly cooling the products to create a liquid that contains many of the usual compounds found in petrol. The liquid can then either be treated more to produce the other compounds found in petrol, or it can be used ‘as is’ for a high octane blend.
The researchers reckon this stuff is way better than your standard ethanol biofuel. National Science Foundation’s John Regalbuto, a research collaborator in the UMass green gasoline project, explains:
“In theory it requires much less energy to make than ethanol, giving it a smaller carbon footprint and making it cheaper to produce. Making it from cellulose sources, such as switchgrass or poplar trees grown as energy crops, or forest or agricultural residues such as wood chips or corn stover, solves the lifecycle greenhouse gas problem that has recently surfaced with corn ethanol and soy biodiesel.”
Says Umass’ research leader George Huber:
“It is likely that the future consumer will not even know that they are putting biofuels into their car. Biofuels in the future will most likely be similar in chemical composition to gasoline and diesel fuel used today. The challenge for chemical engineers is to efficiently produce liquid fuels from biomass while fitting into the existing infrastructure today.”