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Jet fuels from biomass

27 April 2010

Biomass-derived fuels take a step closer to solving the energy problem thanks to a new process developed by US scientists. 

As fossil fuel resources continue to diminish, there is a greater need for developing new approaches for producing fuels from renewable resources. Solar cells and hydrogen fuel could provide long term solutions but the most immediate option is substitution of petrol with biofuels. 

First-generation biofuels such as bioethanol and biodiesel have shown this is possible but they can only satisfy a small portion of the energy demands of the transportation sector and they also use edible biomass as a feedstock increasing competition for food sources. Consequently, second-generation biofuels derived from lignocellulosic biomass, that wouldn't affect global food production, have been suggested. But until now have only been used as blending agents in fuels, meaning that petroleum-derived alkanes are still the main component. 

Biomass to fuel scheme

Biomas can be transformed into long chain jet and diesel fuel

Now James Dumesic at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, US, and colleagues have developed a new process that produces renewable liquid fuels similar to existing petroleum-derived transportation fuels from levulinic acid - a product of biomass hydolysis. In Dumesic's process levulinic acid is hydrogenated to gamma- valerolactone, which is also used as a substitute for blending of ethanol in gasoline. Reaction with 5-nonanone upgrades gamma- valerolactone to liquid hydrocarbon fuels. This C9 ketone produces a mixture of C9 alkenes, which Dumesic oligomerises over an acid catalyst to produce longer chain C18 alkenes that, after hydrogenation, can be used as jet fuel.

'The major significance of this work is that it is an avenue for the preparation of hydrocarbons in the diesel fuel range (C18) from carbohydrate derived feedstock,' says Jesse Bond, a member of Dumesic's group.

This view is shared by Rafael Luque an expert in renewable biofuels at the University of Cordoba, Spain, who comments, '[This work is] a very interesting and novel approach that has important potential for the production of different biofuels from alkene oligomerisation' and adds that he is interested to see how this process will develop with regards to complex alkene mixtures and other diesel-like fuels. 

'The success of future biorefining strategies will depend upon efficient and creative utilisation of all biomass fractions to fill the demand currently met by petroleum,' says Bond. 'If levulinic acid and gamma-valerolactone can be produced in large quantities and at a low cost, there is great potential for these technologies'. 

Nicola Wise 


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Link to journal article

Production of liquid hydrocarbon transportation fuels by oligomerization of biomass-derived C9 alkenes
David Martin Alonso, Jesse Q. Bond, Juan Carlos Serrano-Ruiz and James A. Dumesic, Green Chem., 2010, 12, 992
DOI: 10.1039/c001899f

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