Clay Wheeler, a researcher from the University of Maine has created what could be the alternative to using petroleum for making gasoline – a much greener alternative, in fact, but which also poses numerous other environmental concerns, because it involves trees – the Earth’s lungs.
Prof. Wheeler and his two undergrads said about the technique they developed that “it’s unique and it’s simple. This is important because the more complex the technology, the more expensive it’s going to be.”
The process consists of two steps. In the first, meant to isolate the sugars in cellulose, wood is bathed in sulfuric acid. This step produces an energy-intense acid mixture.
The second step removes oxygen by heating the mixture with calcium hydroxide in a reactor to 450 degrees Celsius (840 degrees Fahrenheit). The result is a hydrocarbon liquid whose chemistry resembles crude oil.
To cut costs, the calcium hydroxide and acids are recycled at the end of the conversion, leaving wood to be the most expensive part of the equation. While it’s not currently cheaper than making gasoline out of crude oil, the technology could find its use soon enough, judging by how the oil industry increases the prices of crude.
“We anticipate that the value of the fuel will continue to increase as petroleum becomes more scarce,” said Wheeler.
Paper consumption has decreased during the last few years, and this could be a source of raw wood for making gasoline. The problem is that some people fought and still do fight for decreasing paper consumption, while a solution like this one once again puts wood in a chain of consumption – a much bigger chain than the one of paper-making, in my opinion.
Yes, it’s from biomass, yes, it’s greener than fossil fuels – but tell me – if people will start realizing that cutting down trees (legally and illegally) will get them gas – they will, and eventually the whole green thing will be a thing of the past – a distant past.