Green diesel: New process makes fuel from plants

June 3, 2005
Green diesel: New process makes fuel from plants

College of Engineering researchers have discovered a new way to make a diesel-like liquid fuel from carbohydrates commonly found in plants.
Reporting in the June 3 issue of the Journal Science, Steenbock Professor James Dumesic and colleagues detail a four-phase catalytic reactor in which corn and other biomass-derived carbohydrates can be converted to sulfur-free liquid alkanes resulting in an ideal additive for diesel transportation fuel. Co-researchers include chemical and biological engineering graduate students George Huber, Juben Chheda and Chris Barrett.

Image: Catalytic processing

"It's a very efficient process," says Huber. "The fuel produced contains 90 percent of the energy found in the carbohydrate and hydrogen feed. If you look at a carbohydrate source such as corn, our new process has the potential to create twice the energy as is created in using corn to make ethanol."

About 67 percent of the energy required to make ethanol is consumed in fermenting and distilling corn. As a result, ethanol production creates 1.1 units of energy for every unit of energy consumed. In the UW-Madison process, the desired alkanes spontaneously separate from water. No additional heating or distillation is required. The result is the creation of 2.2 units of energy for every unit of energy consumed in energy production.

"The fuel we're making stores a considerable amount of hydrogen," says Dumesic. "Each molecule of hydrogen is used to convert each carbon atom in the carbohydrate reactant to an alkane. It's a very high yield. We don't lose a lot of carbon. The carbon acts as an effective energy carrier for transportation vehicles. It's not unlike the way our own bodies use carbohydrates to store energy."

About 75 percent of the dry weight of herbaceous and woody biomass is comprised of carbohydrates. Because the UW-Madison process works with a range of carbohydrates, a wide range of plants, and more parts of the plant, can be consumed to make fuel.

"The current delivered cost of biomass is comparable or even cheaper than petroleum-based feedstock on an energy basis," Huber says. "This is one step in figuring out how to efficiently use our biomass resources."

Source: University of Wisconsin

Explore further: Water—the office hero

Related Stories

Water—the office hero

August 3, 2016

The culture of grabbing something quick to eat amid a mounting pile of to-dos at work often leads to making the wrong decisions when searching for something to eat in the workplace. Unplanned cake offerings and the emergence ...

Nutrition can be important factor in athletic success

August 16, 2016

When tuning into the Summer Olympics this month, it's clear that each Olympian has worked hard to get Rio. However, according to a registered dietitian at Baylor College of Medicine, that hard work is not limited to the track, ...

Benefits of eating carbohydrates

June 21, 2016

Ah, carbohydrates, though often touted by the media as an enemy in the game of weight loss, they are an essential macronutrient as our body's main source of fuel and a necessary component to maintaining proper cellular function.

How fat becomes lethal—even without weight gain

June 16, 2016

Sugar in the form of blood glucose provides essential energy for cells. When its usual dietary source—carbohydrates—is scarce, the liver can produce it with the aid of fat. But new research from Johns Hopkins now adds ...

Recommended for you

First stars formed even later than previously thought

August 31, 2016

ESA's Planck satellite has revealed that the first stars in the Universe started forming later than previous observations of the Cosmic Microwave Background indicated. This new analysis also shows that these stars were the ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.