Today, news came out 0n journal Science that researchers at the University of Wisconsin-madison developed a two-step process that can help convert agricultural waste into the liquid hydrocarbons found in gasoline and jet fuel.
The process involves transforming a plant-derived compound called HMF into alkenes, some of the hydrocarbons found in gasoline. Initially, they used a costly enzyme called ketones to transform HMF. This is not only expensive, but also inefficient in that some HMF keeps reacting, turing into compounds known as levulinic acid and formic acid, not useful for making biofuel. But what they know is that existing catalysts could turn those acid into a small, ring-shaped compound called gamma-valerolactone (GVL). So they decided not to use ketones and let HMF transform into acid so that they can devise a means for turning GVL into liquid alkenes without ketones.
The researchers reported they succeed with the help of two cheap, commercially availble catalyst. The Their process works in two steps. In the first step, the researchers flow a solution of GVL over a silica-alumina based catalyst, which breaks GVL’s ring and turns it into butene, a short, linear hydrocarbon. In the next step, they expose butene at high pressure to another catalyst, which links multiple butenes together to make longer alkenes. In the end, Dumesic says that about 95% of the energy in GVL winds up in the liquid fuels.
It seems to me that more viable way to produce biofuels is to not through biology, but through chemistry. Without awfully sophisticated bio engineering, chemistry lead us to a brighter future of biofuels.