Simple Process Turns Raw Plant Material into Fuel


Researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison have come up with a straightforward two-step process to convert cellulose — the ubiquitous energy-rich molecules found in all plant material — into a furfural biofuel.

To make this simple process reality, Ron Raines and his graduate student, Joseph Binder, developed a special mix of solvents and additives with an extraordinary capacity to dissolve cellulose.

“This solvent system can dissolve cotton balls, which are pure cellulose,” says Raines. “And it’s a simple system—not corrosive, dangerous, expensive or stinky.”

The first step in the process converts the plant cellulose into what’s called HMF  — a “platform” chemical that can be subsequently turned a wide variety of commodities. In step two, the HMF is turned into the biofuel DMF. Reportedly, the overall yield for of the conversion is 9%, meaning that 9% of the cellulose in their corn stover samples was converted into DMF.

“The yield of DMF isn’t fabulous yet, but that second step hasn’t been optimized,” says Raines. “Our process is so general I think we can make DMF or HMF out of any type of biomass.”

DMF isn’t yet a well-known biofuel, but, as Raines notes, it has the same energy content as gasoline, doesn’t mix with water and is compatible with the existing liquid transportation fuel infrastructure. In fact, It has already been used as a gasoline additive

Read more: Journal of the American Chemical Society (subs. req’d): J. Am. Chem. Soc., 2009, 131 (5), pp 1979–1985

DOI: 10.1021/ja808537j

Source: EurekAlert

Image Credit: Original Journal Paper


Nick Chambers

Not your traditional car guy.