Green gasoline from plant matter

University of Massachusetts researchers have come up with a way to cook plant matter and make gas out of it, but it could be 10 years before it appears at the pump.

Researchers at the University of Massachusetts say forget about cellulosic ethanol. They can make regular gas out of plant matter.

Professor George Huber and grad students Torren Carlson and Tushar Vispute have come up with a way to cook plant matter in the presence of a solid, reusable catalyst to produce a liquid that contains compounds like naphthalene and toluene that are found in gasoline. The liquid can be further processed to produce gas or burned as is.

It might be 10 years before gas made from the process appears at the pump, but conceivably it could be used more widely than ethanol. The vast majority of cars can't run on fuels with a high ethanol content. Ethanol also only has about two-thirds the energy content of gas. Thus, you'd get more mileage out of the UMass gas.

"In theory it requires much less energy to make than ethanol, giving it a smaller carbon footprint and making it cheaper to produce," said John Regalbuto at the National Science Foundation, which supported the research with grants. "Making it from cellulose sources such as switchgrass or poplar trees grown as energy crops, or forest or agricultural residues such as wood chips or corn stover, solves the lifecycle greenhouse gas problem that has recently surfaced with corn ethanol and soy biodiesel."

Tech Culture
About the author

    Michael Kanellos is editor at large at CNET, where he covers hardware, research and development, start-ups and the tech industry overseas.


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