Scientists at Gevo, a startup company in Colorado, have found a new way to turn plant scrap into jet fuel. According to them, high-energy fuels can be made from renewable biomass.
The company has engineered yeast that helps transform the cellulose found in plant stalks and wood chips into butanol (an ingredient of gasoline). After this process, researchers claim they can modify the butanol into jet fuel.
“Cellulose is the biggest source of sugars on the planet. The difficulty is, it’s harder to get at that cellulose and get at those sugars than it is to get the sugars from corn kernels,” says Mike Cleary, director of the National Bioenergy Center at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. Unlike conventional biofuel (such as ethanol), butanol has 30 percent more energy and burns more efficiently, being able to deliver more miles per gallon.
To make biofuel, the company uses yeast or bacteria to digest plant starch into sugars, which are then fermented. Besides this, butanol can be readily converted into chemical products due to its molecular structure. Today, refineries obtain chemical products from petroleum fuels.
Gevo’s technology has yet to be demonstrated at commercial scale, after which the product can be launched into the market at a cost that is competitive with gasoline and ethanol.