April 25, 2008

HUMBUG PEAK:

Trees in Your Tank? The Future of Green Gasoline: Earth Day Extra (Chris Ladd, April 22, 2008, Popular Mechanics)

Hydrogen, ethanol and even compressed air all have the shrink-wrapped sheen of the bright, green future. But gasoline? At $1 per gallon?

Researchers at UMass Amherst recently published a new method of refining hydrocarbons from cellulose, paving the way to turn wood scraps into gasoline, diesel fuel, Tupperware—anything, essentially, that’s normally refined from petroleum. Many scientists have been working on ways to turn everything from corn stalks to tires into ethanol, sidestepping some of the problems inherent to making fuel from corn and other food products. But ethanol has a number of liabilities, regardless of the source. For instance, it requires automotive engines to be modified and contains less energy than gasoline, driving down fuel economy. [...]

Huber and his colleagues aren’t the first to derive hydrocarbons from renewable sources. Virent Energy Systems, for example, just signed a deal with Shell to produce gasoline from plant sugars and expects to open a pilot facility in the next two years. UOP is working on a project to produce jet fuel for U.S. and NATO fighters from algal and vegetable oils. But Huber’s work stands out as likely the first direct conversion from cellulose, opening up as potential fuel sources virtually anything that grows. Commercialization of the technology may take another five to 10 years, the researchers predict.

Developments in so-called “green hydrocarbons” arrive as ethanol continues to come under attack as expensive, inefficient and a contributor to rising food prices around the world.

Posted by Orrin Judd at April 25, 2008 9:18 AM
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