Green diesel: New process makes fuel from plants

Jun 03, 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: How much do we really know about privacy on Facebook?

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

New insight into photosynthesis

May 27, 2014

The way that algae and plants respond to light has been reinterpreted based on results from experiments studying real-time structural changes in green algae. Under particular lighting conditions during photosynthesis, ...

Defining function from "genomic dark matter"

May 20, 2014

Functional annotation allowed researchers to identify biomass-degrading enzymes in the 35 percent of genes in a genome that are considered "genomic dark matter."

Recommended for you

Ahead of Emmys, Netflix already winning online

1 hour ago

Even if it doesn't take home any of the major trophies at Monday's Emmy Awards, Netflix will have already proven itself the top winner in one regard: Internet programming.

US warns shops to watch for customer data hacking

1 hour ago

The US Department of Homeland Security on Friday warned businesses to watch for hackers targeting customer data with malicious computer code like that used against retail giant Target.

Official says hackers hit up to 25,000 US workers

2 hours ago

The internal records of as many as 25,000 Homeland Security Department employees were exposed during a recent computer break-in at a federal contractor that handles security clearances, an agency official said Friday.

Oregon sues Oracle over failed health care website

12 hours ago

Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum says she's filed a lawsuit against Oracle Corp. and several of its executives over the technology company's role in the state's troubled health insurance exchange.

Google buys product design firm Gecko

12 hours ago

Google on Friday confirmed that it bought Gecko Design to bolster its lab devoted to technology-advancing projects such as self-driving cars and Internet-linked Glass eyewear.

User comments : 0