George Huber of the University of Massachusetts-Amherst (UMass) and his students Torren Carlson and Tushar Vispute announced the first direct conversion of plant cellulose into gasoline components.
There may be 10 years until this invention is brought to market. Huber said that the consumers won’t even realize the difference between regular fossil gasoline and the green gasoline, made using his discovery. They will have similar chemical formulas. “The challenge for chemical engineers is to efficiently produce liquid fuels from biomass while fitting into the existing infrastructure today”, Huber said.
I wonder if this invention won’t make the gasoline traders to falsely put up prices on the market, and pretend they sell fossil gasoline.
The new fuel is made by rapidly heating the cellulose in the presence of solid catalysts (materials that speed up the chemical reactions, without sacrificing themselves in the process).
The entire process was completed in under two minutes using relatively moderate amounts of heat. The compounds that formed in that single step, like naphthalene and toluene, make up one fourth of the suite of chemicals found in gasoline. The liquid can be further treated to form the remaining fuel components or can be used “as is” for a high octane gasoline blend.
“In theory it requires much less energy to make than ethanol, giving it a smaller carbon footprint and making it cheaper to produce,” Regalbuto said. “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.”
Not only is the method a compact way to treat a great deal of biomass in a short time, Regalbuto emphasized that the process, in principle, does not require any external energy. “In fact, from the extra heat that will be released, you can generate electricity in addition to the biofuel,” he said. “There will not be just a small carbon footprint for the process; by recovering heat and generating electricity, there won’t be any footprint.”
This way of making gasoline is safe; but is humanity still smart enough not to cut the trees for gasoline, in case of biomass crisis? We haven’t proved it until now. I have a friend who keeps up the idea “I’ve got only one life, I want to enjoy it! I’ll die anyway”. And that makes me sad…