Environment

Biogasoline could be joining biodiesel at the pumps

Biogasoline could be joining b...
Scientists have succeeded in converting plant waste to gasoline (Photo: Shutterstock)
Scientists have succeeded in converting plant waste to gasoline (Photo: Shutterstock)
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Scientists have succeeded in converting plant waste to gasoline (Photo: Shutterstock)
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Scientists have succeeded in converting plant waste to gasoline (Photo: Shutterstock)

By now, most people have at least a passing knowledge of biodiesel – it's diesel fuel made from plant or animal oils, as opposed to the more traditional and less eco-friendly petroleum. While it's a good choice for people with diesel-powered vehicles, those of us with gas-burning cars haven't been able to get in on the action ... although that may be about to change.

Diesel fuel, of both the traditional and bio varieties, is made up of linear hydrocarbons. These are long straight chains of carbon atoms, and they differ from the shorter, branched chains – known as branched hydrocarbons – that make up gasoline. It's possible to create linear hydrocarbons from things like plant waste, but it hasn't been possible to use that same source to produce branched hydrocarbons that have the volatility of gasoline.

At least, not until now.

Led by Prof. Mark Mascal, a team at the University of California, Davis has used a feedstock of levulinic acid to create biogasoline. Levulinic acid is itself derived from pretty much any cellulosic material, such as corn stalks, straw or other plant waste.

That waste does not have to be fermented, plus the fuel-making process is reportedly inexpensive and offers waste-to-gas yields of over 60 percent. The university has filed a patent on the technology

A paper on the research was recently published in the journal Angewandte Chemie.

Source: UC Davis

21 comments
socalboomer
Here's hoping it leaves your exhaust smelling like french fries. . . like biodiesel does. :)
The Skud
Couldn't you call any blend of corn-based ethenol and gasoline a "biopetrol"????
Noel K Frothingham
The Skud, the article describes a product - a 'biopetrol' that would be a direct replacement for gasoline. You refer to a 'blend' of ethanol and gasoline, with the current acceptable recipe calling for 90% gasoline to 10% ethanol.
So in my opinion, no. They are two distinctly different formulas/products.
Rex Zietsman
This may sound like a "break through" but in reality, it can be done using existing conventional equipment. This would be a cracker followed by a hydrotreater designed to handle a higher oxygen load than petrochemical oils. The final twist is that there is a layer of isomerising catalyst in the bottom of the hydrotreater to change from polymers from linear to branched. We are doing this in synthetic diesel production from biomass. In our case we do not crack all the way down to gasoline (but could) and then hydrotreat and, in winter, isomerise.
Mel Tisdale
Whenever I hear mention of bio-fuels among the things that spring to mind is a long conversation that I once had with a fuel engineer who worked for a well-known aero engine manufacturer.
This happened about six years ago now, so things might have improved in the meantime, but this engineer expressed a concern that her work on bio-fuels had shown that they degraded markedly compared to conventional fuels and storage needed careful monitoring. (Obviously, long-term on-board storage is not a problem with aero engines.)
I imagine most diesel engined vehicles also cycle their fuel quite rapidly, especially seeing as most are commercial in nature. On the other hand, gasoline powered vehicles sometimes gather dust for months, only coming out on high days and holidays. I assume such usage will be considered in the event of any changeover to bio-gasoline. It might make little difference or it might be vital.
It would be sad for the family, all dressed up in their Sunday best, to get into their 1928 vintage Bentley, which is their pride and joy, to go for a trip to the sea-side, only for it not to start because the fuel had degraded too much over the winter. (Even starting the thing every fortnight or so, wouldn't do anything to help fix the problem, if problem there be, of course.)
michael_dowling
Well,Mel,anybody owning any kind of vehicle that is put in storage for months should know that fuel,even petroleum based fuel,deteriorates over time-ignorance is no excuse.
Observer101
While this is interesting, I always wonder how much cheaper is it, is it as powerful as current fuels, and what will it cost at the pump? Also, what changes to vehicle fuel delivery systems must be made… it all sounds good, but is it economically viable, and can it be mass-produced?
Robert Fallin
Great; just in time for electric and fuel-cell vehicles. Seriously, this makes the arguments against fracking, drilling and pipeline a LOT more credible.
donwine
Will it become illegal to make our own?
Pat Kelley
Don't hold your breath. When an academic institution makes an announcement like this, you can be guaranteed they're angling for more grant money. I've counted over a thousand such "breakthrough" articles over the last decade, and have yet to see any of them result in a real product. How many decades have we pursued the elusive fusion power, and how many hundreds of billion dollars spent without reaching breakthrough?
This is not to say that energy technology won't continue to improve, but the evolutionary path to combustion-free power is going to take time.