Green Gasoline? Scientists Produce $1/Gallon Gasoline From Non-Food Plant Material

  • Published on April 9th, 2008 by
 

gas, gas 2.0, biogasoline, science, research, biofuel, gasoline

[social_buttons] Researchers at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst have made a potentially ground-breaking discovery in the production of biofuels from sustainable, non-food sources.

By heating cellulosic plant material to between 750 and 1,100 degrees Fahrenheit in the presence of a catalyst, then quickly cooling it, the team of graduate students led by associate professor George W. Huber was able to produce a mixture of hydrocarbons identical to gasoline in less than two minutes. The conversion is a relatively simple, one-step process that could create biogasoline for as little as $1 per gallon.





“We’ve proven this method on a small scale in the lab,” Huber said. “But we need to make further improvements and prove it on a large scale before it’s going to be economically viable.”

This process could provide a less-energy intensive alternative to standard ethanol production—the fuel which, like it or not, the US is currently banking on to carry it into the foreseeable future (don’t believe this? see my last post).

Of course, that depends on whether or not the process makes it out of the lab. Huber says that could take up to 10 years, but the research has already generated $400,000 in funds from the National Science Foundation, and $30,000 from the UMass Office of Commercial Ventures and Intellectual Property. If the breakthrough lives up to its hype, it could be on the receiving end of a lot more.

John Regalbuto, director of the Catalysis and Biocatalysis Program at the National Science Foundation, said:

“In theory, (the UMass biofuel) requires much less energy to make than ethanol, giving it a smaller carbon footprint and making it cheaper to produce,” Regalbuto said.

“In fact, from the extra heat that will be released, you can generate electricity in addition to the biofuel. There will not be just a small carbon footprint for the process. By recovering heat and generating electricity, there won’t be any footprint.”

I won’t be holding my breath for this one, but it could offer another fuel to the growing list of sustainable, petroleum-free alternatives we may depend on in the next few decades.

It may also legitimate the name of this blog.

Posts Related to Green Gasoline:

Source: The Republican (Apr. 09, 08): $1 per gallon biofuel touted

Photo Credit: University of Wisconsin-Madison





About the Author

In a past life, Clayton was a professional blogger and editor of Gas 2.0, Important Media’s blog covering the future of sustainable transportation. He was also the Managing Editor for GO Media, the predecessor to Important Media.

  • Rob

    Well, it sounds promising, I guess. But the statement “By recovering heat and generating electricity, there won’t be any footprint” is irresponsible and makes me question the story a bit.

    It will take energy to produce whatever feedstock they use for one thing. And there will obviously be an energy loss in even the tightest process.

  • Rob

    Well, it sounds promising, I guess. But the statement “By recovering heat and generating electricity, there won’t be any footprint” is irresponsible and makes me question the story a bit.

    It will take energy to produce whatever feedstock they use for one thing. And there will obviously be an energy loss in even the tightest process.

  • Ken

    Unfortunately this isn’t a breakthrough because the production of oil is really much less than one dollar a gallon. It is the retail price that is inflated.

  • Ken

    Unfortunately this isn’t a breakthrough because the production of oil is really much less than one dollar a gallon. It is the retail price that is inflated.

  • Greg

    In order for this to become viable it must first take less energy to create the fuel then is put into it (not taking into account of course the growing and transportation of the material). So long as it requires more electrical and heat energy to produce then is output it will never be adapted because of the huge losses that would add up.

  • Greg

    In order for this to become viable it must first take less energy to create the fuel then is put into it (not taking into account of course the growing and transportation of the material). So long as it requires more electrical and heat energy to produce then is output it will never be adapted because of the huge losses that would add up.

  • IConrad

    Rob —

    No, sir — you’re actually incorrect. The feedstock material would be lignocellulose; wood chips, etcetera. These can be grown wholly without energy investment. (Trees, for example). They can be collected via machines powered by… gasoline derived from this process. The “footprint” statement, however, was referring to the conversion process itself.

    It is very important, when commenting on a topic, that you fully comprehend the statements made within it. In this case; the thermocatalytic chemical conversion process would be “carbon footprint free” because the energy generated in one process could be used to power the next.

  • IConrad

    Rob —

    No, sir — you’re actually incorrect. The feedstock material would be lignocellulose; wood chips, etcetera. These can be grown wholly without energy investment. (Trees, for example). They can be collected via machines powered by… gasoline derived from this process. The “footprint” statement, however, was referring to the conversion process itself.

    It is very important, when commenting on a topic, that you fully comprehend the statements made within it. In this case; the thermocatalytic chemical conversion process would be “carbon footprint free” because the energy generated in one process could be used to power the next.

  • we should produce it and charge 3 dollars a gallon and make back some of the massive debt we have attained over the years, and make the dollar worth more again.

  • we should produce it and charge 3 dollars a gallon and make back some of the massive debt we have attained over the years, and make the dollar worth more again.

  • Len

    If it can be produced cheaply in a small lab then it can be done even more economically in a larger facility… lets hope the corporate greed & political will (if not wisdom) is there.

    As for me, the comment of “there won’t be any footprint” is moot. The point is that there will be a tiny footprint in comparison when it comes to production. There will still be a footprint however when this fuel is burned.

    Tho that won’t matter much when it comes to the real world, you can be sure the eco-terrorists… er, politicians & global warming band wagons will do their spin to wring more in taxes out of us & generate a whole new economy based on fear of the natural patterns of world climate. That’s what will drive the price of this fuel up more than anything else I’ll bet.

  • Len

    If it can be produced cheaply in a small lab then it can be done even more economically in a larger facility… lets hope the corporate greed & political will (if not wisdom) is there.

    As for me, the comment of “there won’t be any footprint” is moot. The point is that there will be a tiny footprint in comparison when it comes to production. There will still be a footprint however when this fuel is burned.

    Tho that won’t matter much when it comes to the real world, you can be sure the eco-terrorists… er, politicians & global warming band wagons will do their spin to wring more in taxes out of us & generate a whole new economy based on fear of the natural patterns of world climate. That’s what will drive the price of this fuel up more than anything else I’ll bet.

  • Justin Bailey

    I totally agree Rob. Saying that there would be no footprint at all is a brazen lie. There will always be some sort of waste or loss no matter what the manufacturing process

  • Justin Bailey

    I totally agree Rob. Saying that there would be no footprint at all is a brazen lie. There will always be some sort of waste or loss no matter what the manufacturing process

  • Nate

    That “no footprint” statement irks me a bit too. I think they meant it would produce no larger a footprint than just generating electricity. I believe the concept of entropy sort of puts the kibosh on even that.

    On the other hand, if all it takes is heat, it could conceivably be run on solar pretty easily. Even smaller footprint, and you could still do something with the waste heat.

  • Nate

    That “no footprint” statement irks me a bit too. I think they meant it would produce no larger a footprint than just generating electricity. I believe the concept of entropy sort of puts the kibosh on even that.

    On the other hand, if all it takes is heat, it could conceivably be run on solar pretty easily. Even smaller footprint, and you could still do something with the waste heat.

  • “a mixture of hydrocarbons identical to gasoline” – I can’t imagine it would be identical, though it might be superior. I’m guessing there’s no benzene, for example.

  • “a mixture of hydrocarbons identical to gasoline” – I can’t imagine it would be identical, though it might be superior. I’m guessing there’s no benzene, for example.

  • Who’s going to do the labor to make the fuel? Where will the infrastructure come from — i.e. how will the resources be extracted to build it?

    Will the poor be able to afford vehicles to burn it?

  • Who’s going to do the labor to make the fuel? Where will the infrastructure come from — i.e. how will the resources be extracted to build it?

    Will the poor be able to afford vehicles to burn it?

  • tim

    so what is the energy source to make it?

  • tim

    so what is the energy source to make it?

  • dardekeas

    Although carbon footprint in the production of energy should not be ignored, the real question is the carbon dioxide emissions of burning the fuel.

    @IConrad: You really think cutting down trees is a viable option? Carbon footprint can be measured in two ways: 1. amount of new CO2, methane, etc in the atmosphere; 2. reduction in the amount of CO2 that can be reabsorbed from the atmosphere. You can’t cut down trees that absorb CO2 to create a fuel that releases more CO2 into the atmosphere when burned and claim that this is in any way an ecologically sound process.

  • dardekeas

    Although carbon footprint in the production of energy should not be ignored, the real question is the carbon dioxide emissions of burning the fuel.

    @IConrad: You really think cutting down trees is a viable option? Carbon footprint can be measured in two ways: 1. amount of new CO2, methane, etc in the atmosphere; 2. reduction in the amount of CO2 that can be reabsorbed from the atmosphere. You can’t cut down trees that absorb CO2 to create a fuel that releases more CO2 into the atmosphere when burned and claim that this is in any way an ecologically sound process.

  • don steinke

    In the meantime, I’m planning to buy a Honda Civic GX which runs on methane. Then I plan to make my own methane out of food scraps.

    A million people in India make methane out of manure and use it for water heaters, cooking, and electrical power.

    Google methane digesters.

    don

  • don steinke

    In the meantime, I’m planning to buy a Honda Civic GX which runs on methane. Then I plan to make my own methane out of food scraps.

    A million people in India make methane out of manure and use it for water heaters, cooking, and electrical power.

    Google methane digesters.

    don

  • Uncle B

    Will it work on coal, we’ve got lots of that stuff!

  • Uncle B

    Will it work on coal, we’ve got lots of that stuff!

  • Unfortunately, this article is so vague as to be useless for real information. There is a bunch of hand-waving and a reference which names a researcher, but no mention of a paper or a publication date. Looking up “Huber GW Amherst” finds the author and a bunch of bio-fuel related stuff, but nothing which is obviously THE source for the article.

    This system sounds a lot like gasification followed by Fischer-Tropsch synthesis, which works with practically any feedstock which contains carbon. So far so good, but the combination is only about 50% efficient. Worse, we’d run out of feedstock before we slaked our thirst; our energy consumption from petroleum is a LOT greater than half our possible biological productivity from higher plants.

    And no, coal won’t help. The USA is hard-put to mine 30 quadrillion BTU/year of coal, while we use ~40 quadrillion BTU/year of oil. Anyone who thinks we can dig another 80 quads of coal to make 40 quads of gasoline and stuff is not just dreaming, he’s leading us into a nightmare of being over OPECs barrel.

    The solution is electric cars and electrified rail. Seriously.

  • Unfortunately, this article is so vague as to be useless for real information. There is a bunch of hand-waving and a reference which names a researcher, but no mention of a paper or a publication date. Looking up “Huber GW Amherst” finds the author and a bunch of bio-fuel related stuff, but nothing which is obviously THE source for the article.

    This system sounds a lot like gasification followed by Fischer-Tropsch synthesis, which works with practically any feedstock which contains carbon. So far so good, but the combination is only about 50% efficient. Worse, we’d run out of feedstock before we slaked our thirst; our energy consumption from petroleum is a LOT greater than half our possible biological productivity from higher plants.

    And no, coal won’t help. The USA is hard-put to mine 30 quadrillion BTU/year of coal, while we use ~40 quadrillion BTU/year of oil. Anyone who thinks we can dig another 80 quads of coal to make 40 quads of gasoline and stuff is not just dreaming, he’s leading us into a nightmare of being over OPECs barrel.

    The solution is electric cars and electrified rail. Seriously.

  • Ironious

    Too bad multi billion dollar oil cartels will now allow this to come to anything. There are many many other forms of fuel but the oil industry has and will kill people that dont sell out to them.

  • Ironious

    Too bad multi billion dollar oil cartels will now allow this to come to anything. There are many many other forms of fuel but the oil industry has and will kill people that dont sell out to them.

  • Jim Williams

    The association with CO2 production is irrelevant at this point anyway. I don’t believe the ability of the earths natural environment to easily sink whatever small amounts of CO2 we produce (compared to Natures BIG CO2 producers) has been fully realized.

    This article reminds me in many ways of the “cold fusion” story years ago.

  • Jim Williams

    The association with CO2 production is irrelevant at this point anyway. I don’t believe the ability of the earths natural environment to easily sink whatever small amounts of CO2 we produce (compared to Natures BIG CO2 producers) has been fully realized.

    This article reminds me in many ways of the “cold fusion” story years ago.

  • Mike

    Homebrew Gasoline? Convert your non-food garbage to gas and keep it out of the landfill? If it’s so simple give the world the recipe.

  • Mike

    Homebrew Gasoline? Convert your non-food garbage to gas and keep it out of the landfill? If it’s so simple give the world the recipe.

  • Evil One

    You really think this is anything but the pursuit of grant money?

    They won’t publish the recipe, they’re going to angle for a patent, which will be buried.

  • Evil One

    You really think this is anything but the pursuit of grant money?

    They won’t publish the recipe, they’re going to angle for a patent, which will be buried.

  • C.J. Eaglei

    I like this idea. I like this concept. Now, who out there has the “back-up” to put these people in business? That’s all it takes. Some big millionare tycoon, who you can sell the idea to…and you’ll be good to go!

  • C.J. Eaglei

    I like this idea. I like this concept. Now, who out there has the “back-up” to put these people in business? That’s all it takes. Some big millionare tycoon, who you can sell the idea to…and you’ll be good to go!

  • alexander

    hi all

    i have question:

    where can i find more information about this one step

    process please?what is the catalyst they use?

    it’s very difficult to find information about it.

    than you very much

  • alexander

    hi all

    i have question:

    where can i find more information about this one step

    process please?what is the catalyst they use?

    it’s very difficult to find information about it.

    than you very much

  • LonnieB

    “Who’s going to do the labor to make the fuel? Where will the infrastructure come from — i.e. how will the resources be extracted to build it?”

    I am assuming that these questions refer to the “no carbon footprint” comment. I won’t belabor that point, but the following question doesn’t make much sense.

    “Will the poor be able to afford vehicles to burn it?”

    What are the poor driving now? If this fuel really is “just like gasoline”, which I doubt, but even if it’s close enough, then they’ll keep driving the third and fourth-hand cars they do today. And that may well make this fuel the fuel of the poor, until enough flexfuel and alternative fuels have been produced, used and sold off to trickle down to the lower incomes. That is the sad reality of modern society.

  • LonnieB

    “Who’s going to do the labor to make the fuel? Where will the infrastructure come from — i.e. how will the resources be extracted to build it?”

    I am assuming that these questions refer to the “no carbon footprint” comment. I won’t belabor that point, but the following question doesn’t make much sense.

    “Will the poor be able to afford vehicles to burn it?”

    What are the poor driving now? If this fuel really is “just like gasoline”, which I doubt, but even if it’s close enough, then they’ll keep driving the third and fourth-hand cars they do today. And that may well make this fuel the fuel of the poor, until enough flexfuel and alternative fuels have been produced, used and sold off to trickle down to the lower incomes. That is the sad reality of modern society.

  • LonnieB

    “Will the poor be able to afford vehicles to burn it?”

    If, as the article claims (dubiously), that this new fuel is “exactly like gasoline”, then the poor will continue to drive the third and fourth hand cars the do today, if they drive at all.

    The sad reality is that until enough flexfuel and alternative fuel cars have been manufactured, sold, used and then resold, to create a pool of these used cars, the poor will have little access to them.

  • LonnieB

    “Will the poor be able to afford vehicles to burn it?”

    If, as the article claims (dubiously), that this new fuel is “exactly like gasoline”, then the poor will continue to drive the third and fourth hand cars the do today, if they drive at all.

    The sad reality is that until enough flexfuel and alternative fuel cars have been manufactured, sold, used and then resold, to create a pool of these used cars, the poor will have little access to them.

  • LonnieB

    Sorry for the repost. I’m still on my first cup of wake-up juice.

  • LonnieB

    Sorry for the repost. I’m still on my first cup of wake-up juice.

  • The question is who will bother to grow food anymore?

    Already in Indonesia and South America cultivating of grain, rice and other food has been ditched in favour of the more profiable fuels.

    In a further 20 years the population will ahve increased to 15 Billion. Who is going to feed them? Where is drinking water going to be sourced from.

    The rivers are now getting heavily polluted by algae.

    It’s time to be very concerned about preservation and sourcing of water.

    The footprint lies in the methods of producing not in its use.The footprint also lies in the sacrifice of rain forests, corn, wheat, barley… food for energy methods that aren’t needed. No hope left for us when we have science more concerned with fuel than sustinance. The Baldchemist

  • The question is who will bother to grow food anymore?

    Already in Indonesia and South America cultivating of grain, rice and other food has been ditched in favour of the more profiable fuels.

    In a further 20 years the population will ahve increased to 15 Billion. Who is going to feed them? Where is drinking water going to be sourced from.

    The rivers are now getting heavily polluted by algae.

    It’s time to be very concerned about preservation and sourcing of water.

    The footprint lies in the methods of producing not in its use.The footprint also lies in the sacrifice of rain forests, corn, wheat, barley… food for energy methods that aren’t needed. No hope left for us when we have science more concerned with fuel than sustinance. The Baldchemist

  • Ray

    Please ignore the statements of some on here that state where the price of gas is jacked. As an oil trader I will tell you that the gas retailers are losing their shirts. Even though the wholesale price of gas may hover around $1.00, the taxes and cost of regulation alone make retailing a bad business. They only stay in the business hoping you will buy a bag of chips or a soda. Why do you think Exxon sold out of it earlier this year. The refiners are also getting crushed, we need to impose minimum gas prices so we can all eat. Or cut out the worst business partner any one could ever have…the government.

  • Ray

    Please ignore the statements of some on here that state where the price of gas is jacked. As an oil trader I will tell you that the gas retailers are losing their shirts. Even though the wholesale price of gas may hover around $1.00, the taxes and cost of regulation alone make retailing a bad business. They only stay in the business hoping you will buy a bag of chips or a soda. Why do you think Exxon sold out of it earlier this year. The refiners are also getting crushed, we need to impose minimum gas prices so we can all eat. Or cut out the worst business partner any one could ever have…the government.

  • Mark in Texas

    Ray

    At the present time the wholesale price of diesel has been around 40 to 60 cents a gallon more than gasoline. While every gallon of oil has to be refined into some gasoline and some diesel, the refiners have some control over the proportions of each that are produced.

    Over the last few decades refiners have optimized to produce as much gasoline as possible. How long before refiners have modified their equipment to produce more diesel and less gasoline?

  • Mark in Texas

    Ray

    At the present time the wholesale price of diesel has been around 40 to 60 cents a gallon more than gasoline. While every gallon of oil has to be refined into some gasoline and some diesel, the refiners have some control over the proportions of each that are produced.

    Over the last few decades refiners have optimized to produce as much gasoline as possible. How long before refiners have modified their equipment to produce more diesel and less gasoline?

  • larry brown

    When will this technology be grabbed and suppressed as so many have been?

  • larry brown

    When will this technology be grabbed and suppressed as so many have been?

  • Ferris

    Fuel taxes alone are more than a dollar per gallon, aren’t they…

  • Ferris

    Fuel taxes alone are more than a dollar per gallon, aren’t they…

  • Schuyler

    What’s the net energy of such a fuel? i.e. Available output energy minus what is used to create the stuff. And – if – it can be scaled up sufficiently to say, meet transportation needs, what would energy input costs at that scale be; also, output wastes and environmental impacts associated with the process?

  • hello

    HAHAHA april 2008…..suck my balls oil companies. I’ll never see this available until oil is officially depleted. Then prepare for a just in the nick of time “breakthrough” just like this to keep our shit running

  • neehans

    where will they grow this non food plant material though?
    cuz if it’s going to compete for land with the existing food production it’s still going to increase food prices by a lot.
    we in the west could easily cough this up, we’re rich assholes after all
    but increasing food prices is the last thing the third world needs