Biofuels no image

Published on September 21st, 2008 | by Alex Felsinger

54

New Energy-Efficient Process Turns Sugar into Gasoline

sugarUsing microscopic metal particles, scientists from the University of Wisconsin-Madison have found that plant-based sugar can be converted to gasoline to be used in current engines. The substance is cleaner-burning than petroleum-based gasoline and more stable than ethanol.[social_buttons]

While a method to turn sugar to gas already exists, it requires extremely high temperatures which made the process less energy efficient. The new process converts the sugars to fuel in mere minutes by running a mixture of water and sugar over particles of the precious metals platinum and rhenium. The metal atoms break the chemical bonds in sugar and release oxygen, which leaves a mixture including carbon and hydrogen that can be used to make plastics or gasoline. Even the gas byproducts of the process can be used as a replacement for natural gas.

The scientists have only tested the process in laboratory setting, and before wide-scale use, the process faces the same problem as other biofuels: where to acquire the sugar. The process uses the simple sugar compound sorbitol, which is available but difficult to separate from biomass. “We would just intercept the sugar and go to gasoline,” said James Dumesic, the chemical engineer from the University of Wisconsin-Madison who led the study. “But there’s still a lot of work to do on how to go from cellulose to sugar.”

The metals used in the process are cost-prohibitive, but the researchers are unsure how much of the metal would be required for mass production. In the meantime they are studying how the metals react with the sugar in hopes to find cheaper metals that produce similar reactions.

Photo Credit: knaakle on Flickr under Creative Commons license.

Other Posts Relating to Ethanol and Biofuels:


Tags: , , , ,


About the Author

is primarily concerned with animal welfare, wildlife conservation, and environmental justice. As a freelance writer in San Francisco, he leads a deliberately simplistic and thrifty lifestyle, yet still can’t help gawking at the newest green gadgets and zero-emission concept cars.



  • http://blogs.timesunion.com/classconflict Brandon Mendelson

    This was a great post, but I couldn’t help but think of Homer Simpson saying, “In America, first you get the sugar … then you get the power … then you get the women”.

  • http://blogs.timesunion.com/classconflict Brandon Mendelson

    This was a great post, but I couldn’t help but think of Homer Simpson saying, “In America, first you get the sugar … then you get the power … then you get the women”.

  • http://www.find-green.info/search/sugar-biofuel Kim

    How Awesome!! I feel like we are on the verge of something incredible! I love this green movement! Thank GOD for Scientist!

  • http://www.find-green.info/search/sugar-biofuel Kim

    How Awesome!! I feel like we are on the verge of something incredible! I love this green movement! Thank GOD for Scientist!

  • http://None JT

    This is not new the brazilians have been doing it for at least 10 years now. In fact they perfectly sustain themselves off sugar cane that they are not inflicted in any way by what happens between opec.

  • http://www.webomatica.com/wordpress/ Webomatica

    Would be nice if this comes to fruition. America needs to get of oil in a big way.

  • http://www.webomatica.com/wordpress/ Webomatica

    Would be nice if this comes to fruition. America needs to get of oil in a big way.

  • http://chappyreport.blogspot.com/ chappyreport

    The oil company’s will shop this by making it agiant the law. Just like hemp. They will say that suger cuases heart disease, becuase of obesity. Then suger will be the hottest illegal drug. The cops will pull people over and prick your finger to see if you suger level is high. “DUI” Driving under the influence of Suger.

  • http://chappyreport.blogspot.com/ chappyreport

    The oil company’s will shop this by making it agiant the law. Just like hemp. They will say that suger cuases heart disease, becuase of obesity. Then suger will be the hottest illegal drug. The cops will pull people over and prick your finger to see if you suger level is high. “DUI” Driving under the influence of Suger.

  • god him self

    Scientist don’t believe in god.They believe in science. which in that case god created science for scientist to believe in. HAHA!

  • god him self

    Scientist don’t believe in god.They believe in science. which in that case god created science for scientist to believe in. HAHA!

  • DONOTWANT

    I for one am not very thrilled at the prospect of gasoline synthesis. Alternate sources of gasoline should only be a short-term solution to a much larger problem: dirty energy inefficiency. The reason why the world has locked itself into a petroleum infrastructure was the deceptively low cost of oil. The world fell for it, and now we now have to deal with toxic air pollution in the cities (undebatable), global warming (debatable, but a scientific consensus), and not to mention sacrificing much of our freedom to OPEC. Rather than focusing on making our own gasoline and driving the price down once again, the focus needs to be on how to harness the vast stores of alternative, clean energy waiting to be tapped, such as solar, wind, algae, etc. But the solution does not stop there. The world needs to avoid cranking the ignition so often, and consider walking if it’s reasonable, ride a bicycle, or swallow their pride and take the bus or metro. A new source of gasoline is the last thing the world needs. The time to transition was yesterday, so why should we create an incentive to wait longer?

  • DONOTWANT

    I for one am not very thrilled at the prospect of gasoline synthesis. Alternate sources of gasoline should only be a short-term solution to a much larger problem: dirty energy inefficiency. The reason why the world has locked itself into a petroleum infrastructure was the deceptively low cost of oil. The world fell for it, and now we now have to deal with toxic air pollution in the cities (undebatable), global warming (debatable, but a scientific consensus), and not to mention sacrificing much of our freedom to OPEC. Rather than focusing on making our own gasoline and driving the price down once again, the focus needs to be on how to harness the vast stores of alternative, clean energy waiting to be tapped, such as solar, wind, algae, etc. But the solution does not stop there. The world needs to avoid cranking the ignition so often, and consider walking if it’s reasonable, ride a bicycle, or swallow their pride and take the bus or metro. A new source of gasoline is the last thing the world needs. The time to transition was yesterday, so why should we create an incentive to wait longer?

  • http://mcbowler.com mcbowler

    Sweet.

  • http://mcbowler.com mcbowler

    Sweet.

  • chris

    can you do a followup on the progress of turning sugar to gas?

  • chris

    can you do a followup on the progress of turning sugar to gas?

  • http://filthyrichmond.com Joss

    Rum and driving are back together

    again! filthyrichmond.com

  • http://filthyrichmond.com Joss

    Rum and driving are back together

    again! filthyrichmond.com

  • Jimmy Soho

    Wow, Scientists are just absolutely AMAZING! Three cheers!

    Jiff

    http://www.FireMe.To/udi

  • Jimmy Soho

    Wow, Scientists are just absolutely AMAZING! Three cheers!

    Jiff

    http://www.FireMe.To/udi

  • Chris

    Every week i hear about a new breakthrough. Something new that will revolutionize the industry, yet nothing changes. This has been going on for years.

  • Chris

    Every week i hear about a new breakthrough. Something new that will revolutionize the industry, yet nothing changes. This has been going on for years.

  • http://www.funnycoolstuff.com Maria

    Wow… soon, we’ll have battery and sugar hybrid car! Yes!

  • http://www.funnycoolstuff.com Maria

    Wow… soon, we’ll have battery and sugar hybrid car! Yes!

  • Sarah

    I have to comment back on two of the posts that I see.

    #1 – the Brazilians have not been doing this for 10 years, the Brazilians produce ethanol, a very energy inefficient process.

    #2 A lot of the pollution problems associated with oil based products are because of impurities (such as sulfur) in the oil and by extension the gasoline. It is the reaction with these impurities that cause the majority of the pollution problems, not the burning of the gasoline itself – a sugar based gasoline is does not have these same issues because sulfur is not a natural component to the sugars.

    Finally, I have to say that the green energies listed aren’t as green as people pretend that they are. Think for example of the land clearage that is required to erect solar cells and turbines. The success of these power sources is very climate dependent, you can develop them all you want, but what benefit do they have if there is not strong enough winds or sufficient sun light.

    There are other technologies out there that aren’t petroleum substitutes, and not climate based, such as hydrogen fuel cells, however there are reasons that fuel cells are not universal – there are technical difficulties that have not been able to be overcome and it is unclear if they will ever be overcome. As a person that works in the field of alternative energy, I agree that more money should be spent on it including gasoline substitutes, you cannot expect the entire infrastructure to change overnight and an initial step of reducing or eliminating the dependence on oil by a synthetic gasoline is a great first step!

  • Sarah

    I have to comment back on two of the posts that I see.

    #1 – the Brazilians have not been doing this for 10 years, the Brazilians produce ethanol, a very energy inefficient process.

    #2 A lot of the pollution problems associated with oil based products are because of impurities (such as sulfur) in the oil and by extension the gasoline. It is the reaction with these impurities that cause the majority of the pollution problems, not the burning of the gasoline itself – a sugar based gasoline is does not have these same issues because sulfur is not a natural component to the sugars.

    Finally, I have to say that the green energies listed aren’t as green as people pretend that they are. Think for example of the land clearage that is required to erect solar cells and turbines. The success of these power sources is very climate dependent, you can develop them all you want, but what benefit do they have if there is not strong enough winds or sufficient sun light.

    There are other technologies out there that aren’t petroleum substitutes, and not climate based, such as hydrogen fuel cells, however there are reasons that fuel cells are not universal – there are technical difficulties that have not been able to be overcome and it is unclear if they will ever be overcome. As a person that works in the field of alternative energy, I agree that more money should be spent on it including gasoline substitutes, you cannot expect the entire infrastructure to change overnight and an initial step of reducing or eliminating the dependence on oil by a synthetic gasoline is a great first step!

  • http://EnerGeoPolitics.wordpress.com EnerGeoPolitics

    ‘The new process converts the sugars to fuel in mere minutes by running a mixture of water and sugar over particles of the precious metals platinum and rhenium.”

    Two things jump out immediately: First, how much water does it take to make this fuel? Second, how much precious metal does it take? In other words, how much is it going to cost, both financially and in terms of a resource even more precious (water) to actually put this into production.

    This is an interesting laboratory breakthrough, but I doubt it is remotely near to a productive solution.

  • http://EnerGeoPolitics.wordpress.com EnerGeoPolitics

    ‘The new process converts the sugars to fuel in mere minutes by running a mixture of water and sugar over particles of the precious metals platinum and rhenium.”

    Two things jump out immediately: First, how much water does it take to make this fuel? Second, how much precious metal does it take? In other words, how much is it going to cost, both financially and in terms of a resource even more precious (water) to actually put this into production.

    This is an interesting laboratory breakthrough, but I doubt it is remotely near to a productive solution.

  • Skeptic

    Using metals that are “cost-prohibitive” they were able to use sugar that has no ready supply to make fuel. Doesn’t sound like much of a breakthrough that will provide much relief for a long time. Just like all the other pie in the sky notions for replacing the BILLIONS of BTU’s of energy we use with biodreams.

  • Skeptic

    Using metals that are “cost-prohibitive” they were able to use sugar that has no ready supply to make fuel. Doesn’t sound like much of a breakthrough that will provide much relief for a long time. Just like all the other pie in the sky notions for replacing the BILLIONS of BTU’s of energy we use with biodreams.

  • GT

    Great idea. Now more Brazilian rain forest can be bulldozed to make way for more sugar cane fields.

  • GT

    Great idea. Now more Brazilian rain forest can be bulldozed to make way for more sugar cane fields.

  • Jeff

    Okay. Finding sugar is easy – tell the Hawaiians to quit farming golf courses and put the cane back in.

  • Jeff

    Okay. Finding sugar is easy – tell the Hawaiians to quit farming golf courses and put the cane back in.

  • Skeptic

    To Jeff:

    How much Hawaiian sugar would this process take to replace our fuel? We can’t even make a small dent in it using several states worth of corn.

  • Skeptic

    To Jeff:

    How much Hawaiian sugar would this process take to replace our fuel? We can’t even make a small dent in it using several states worth of corn.

  • Kenny

    I’m going out to pour some sugar in my tank right now!!

  • Kenny

    I’m going out to pour some sugar in my tank right now!!

  • Drew

    New??

    Making fuel from sugar isn’t new at all.

    Brazil has been doing it since the 70′s. It has been producing ethanol that is made from sugar canes to fuel their cars.

    Cheaper than producing gas, and they produce both. So they can make money from their exports, and use ethanol at home and or both. Either way they have taken the opportunity when they were faced with the problem, 30 years ago, which is what intelligent people would have done.

    Currently its too late for ethanol, or water, or sugar based fuels, they will not save the gas crisis. We need something entirely new. Something on the lines of magnetism or the using gravitational force etc.

    Peace

  • Drew

    New??

    Making fuel from sugar isn’t new at all.

    Brazil has been doing it since the 70′s. It has been producing ethanol that is made from sugar canes to fuel their cars.

    Cheaper than producing gas, and they produce both. So they can make money from their exports, and use ethanol at home and or both. Either way they have taken the opportunity when they were faced with the problem, 30 years ago, which is what intelligent people would have done.

    Currently its too late for ethanol, or water, or sugar based fuels, they will not save the gas crisis. We need something entirely new. Something on the lines of magnetism or the using gravitational force etc.

    Peace

  • Scrit

    Oh, love that, DONOTWANT. Nothing terribly wrong with your message, but really, what is scientific consensus?

    Until I start hearing leading physicists talk about the “Law of Global Warming through Human Interaction”, or something similar, I’m a’gonna stay a bit dubious of the whole warming-through-humans thing. Not that warming isn’t happening, but we’re about to hit cooling big time in the next few years, if the whole, Earth has it’s own cycles, and we’re being ignorantly naive with a dollop of hubris when we say we have much if any impact on it.

  • Scrit

    Oh, love that, DONOTWANT. Nothing terribly wrong with your message, but really, what is scientific consensus?

    Until I start hearing leading physicists talk about the “Law of Global Warming through Human Interaction”, or something similar, I’m a’gonna stay a bit dubious of the whole warming-through-humans thing. Not that warming isn’t happening, but we’re about to hit cooling big time in the next few years, if the whole, Earth has it’s own cycles, and we’re being ignorantly naive with a dollop of hubris when we say we have much if any impact on it.

  • Scrit

    Oh, love that, DONOTWANT. Nothing terribly wrong with your message, but really, what is scientific consensus?

    Until I start hearing leading physicists talk about the “Law of Global Warming through Human Interaction”, or something similar, I’m a’gonna stay a bit dubious of the whole warming-through-humans thing. Not that warming isn’t happening, but we’re about to hit cooling big time in the next few years, if the whole, Earth has it’s own cycles, and we’re being ignorantly naive with a dollop of hubris when we say we have much if any impact on it.

  • seguin

    I’m more interested in the “designer hydrocarbons” (i.e. gasoline secreted from genetically modified bacteria)…seems easier to me. Whichever works is fine though, a no-sulfur, no-septane gasoline is probably better for the environment than building batteries, which puts out a ton of pollution. Besides, I don’t think I could live without the sound of Packard V-12s…

  • seguin

    I’m more interested in the “designer hydrocarbons” (i.e. gasoline secreted from genetically modified bacteria)…seems easier to me. Whichever works is fine though, a no-sulfur, no-septane gasoline is probably better for the environment than building batteries, which puts out a ton of pollution. Besides, I don’t think I could live without the sound of Packard V-12s…

  • http://myyearwithout.blogspot.com my year without

    “Hey, Sugar!” might mean something less sweet…

  • http://myyearwithout.blogspot.com my year without

    “Hey, Sugar!” might mean something less sweet…

  • sceptique

    I happen to love sugar in all forms; I hope that the commercialization of this venture doesn’t make my favorite food too expensive.

  • sceptique

    I happen to love sugar in all forms; I hope that the commercialization of this venture doesn’t make my favorite food too expensive.

  • sceptique

    I happen to love sugar in all forms; I hope that the commercialization of this venture doesn’t make my favorite food too expensive.

  • sceptique

    I happen to love sugar in all forms; I hope that the commercialization of this venture doesn’t make my favorite food too expensive.

  • http://www.sustainablesacramento.blogspot.com Muriel Strand, P.E.

    This sounds like a lot of work just to be able to drive. Simpler to grow something edible instead and just walk to harvest.

  • http://www.sustainablesacramento.blogspot.com Muriel Strand, P.E.

    This sounds like a lot of work just to be able to drive. Simpler to grow something edible instead and just walk to harvest.

Back to Top ↑