Biofuel chemistry more complex than petroleum, researchers say

May 12, 2010
Photo courtesy of Natural Resources Conservation Service/U.S.Department of Agriculture.

Understanding the key elements of biofuel combustion is an important step toward insightful selection of next-generation alternative fuels.

And that's exactly what researchers at Sandia and Lawrence Livermore national laboratories are doing.

The journal devotes its May 10 cover to a paper co-authored by Sandia's Nils Hansen and Lawrence Livermore's Charles Westbrook, which examines the essential elements of biofuel combustion.

The paper, "Biofuel combustion chemistry: from ethanol to biodiesel," examines the combustion chemistry of compounds that constitute typical biofuels, including alcohols, ethers and esters.

Biofuels, such as ethanol, biobutanol and biodiesel, are of increasing interest as alternatives to petroleum-based . According to Hansen and Westbrook, however, little research has been done on the vastly diverse and complex chemical reaction networks of biofuel combustion.

In general, the term biofuel is associated with only a few select , especially ethanol (used exclusively as a gasoline replacement in spark-ignition engines) and very large methyl esters in biodiesel (used as a diesel fuel replacement in diesel engines). The biofuels are oxygenated fuels, which distinguishes them from hydrocarbons in conventional petroleum-based fuels.

While much discussion surrounding biofuels has emphasized the process to make these and fuel additives, Hansen and Westbrook are the first to examine the characteristic aspects of the chemical pathways in the combustion of potential biofuels.

In collaboration with an international research team representing Germany, China and the U.S., Westbrook, Hansen and former Sandia post-doctoral student Tina Kasper used a combination of , and flame chemistry modeling to explore the decomposition and oxidation mechanisms of certain biofuels and the formation of harmful or toxic emissions. Hansen's experiments were conducted in part at the Chemical Dynamics Beamline of the Advanced Light Source at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

To understand the associated combustion reactions and to identify recurring reaction patterns, Hansen and Westbrook agreed, it is important to study prototypical variants of potential biofuels.

Explore further: Smoke flavourings and water vapour permeable bags for new fish smoking techniques

More information: www3.interscience.wiley.com/journal/40002873/home

Related Stories

Biodiesel won't drive down global warming

Apr 23, 2007

EU legislation to promote the uptake of biodiesel will not make any difference to global warming, and could potentially result in greater emissions of greenhouse gases than from conventional petroleum derived diesel. This ...

Study paves way for new biofuels models, technologies

May 10, 2010

Biofuels hold promise as environmentally friendly sources of renewable energy, but which ones should industry and policy leaders focus their efforts on developing? A new study involving researchers from North Carolina State ...

British government to require biofuels

Nov 07, 2005

The British government will reportedly soon require oil companies to blend a fixed proportion of biofuels into the gasoline and diesel fuel they produce.

Biofuels: More than just ethanol

Apr 05, 2007

As the United States looks to alternate fuel sources, ethanol has become one of the front runners. Farmers have begun planting corn in the hopes that its potential new use for corn will be a new income source. What many ...

Microbes fuel energy debate

Jan 22, 2009

Microbes may well be the answer to our global energy crisis. By fermenting biomass to produce biofuels, they offer a possible climate-friendly solution to the anticipated shortfall in fossil fuel supply. A review by Professor ...

Recommended for you

Cells build 'cupboards' to store metals

19 hours ago

Lawrence Livermore researchers in conjunction with collaborators at University of California (link is external), Los Angeles have found that some cells build intracellular compartments that allow the cell ...

User comments : 5

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

El_Nose
5 / 5 (1) May 12, 2010
... and the results of the experiments on examining the by products and toxicity of the the results of biofeuls going through combustion were.... (drum roll).....

sadly another pyhsorg author failed to finish a complete thought....
Shootist
1 / 5 (1) May 12, 2010
and you will never take as much energy out of the system as you put in.

drill here. drill now.
goldengod
not rated yet May 12, 2010
We have already passed peak oil and are now in rapid decline. Nearly all the remaining reserves of fossil fuel are energy negative in that it takes more energy to extract them than we get from them. The only viable alternative to provide the kind of energy industry is used to having on tap is nuclear. Even those fuel reserves will only last around 200 years with current growth rates.

We can't even provide enough bio fuel for current energy needs let alone the energy needs for the next decade.

Harnessing fuel cells, wind, solar and wave energy will provide some respite but not enough to cover the future needs of industry.

The only option we have right now is to be much more efficient that we are currently to slow down the growth of energy consumption and buy more time to put the other options in place.
goldengod
not rated yet May 12, 2010

Either that or just kill a whole lot of people or wait for them to die of starvation. Clearly contraception is not a viable option unless it comes in the form of a routine shot once every couple of years or we force every women to get an iud when she reaches puberty.

Nature is not going to solve the population problem for us in a timely manner. At current growth resource depletion is inevitable.
Tan0r5
not rated yet May 13, 2010
Complexity is in the eye of the researcher and the chemical company supporting the research.
At least they say ethanol can replace petroleum fuel in engines.
Does using it as a mixture prevent people from drinking the ethanol?
Or is it because 100% ethanol would eat into profits or the present engines? Or maybe all of the above?
I think the combustion process is similar to that used to burn witches and heretics.
Don't fret about the population problem. Us fighting terrorism and the use of food crops to make fuel are good ways to reduce the population. Both are profitable.
Then there's hydrogen from water. Less beer.
You gotta use your car to get to work. It's not profitable for government to fully support public transportation. Please watch out for the bicycles and the walkers and the wheelchairs.
Mother Nature will get her way in the end though we wont see it.

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.