Monday, October 24, 2011

Is it possible to turn wood into gasoline?

Clay Wheeler, a chemical engineering professor at the University of Maine, has discovered a process that does just that in two simple steps.  This is important news because, up to this point, the process for extracting ethanol from wood has been a complex and expensive one.  The simple process Wheeler discovered does not use catalysts or bacteria as most bio-energy fuels projects do.  The process produces a hydrocarbon liquid that chemically mimics crude oil.  After refined and without any upgrading it makes 82 octane gasoline.  For every ton of cellulose processed, Wheeler is able to make about 1.25 barrels of oil equivalent, a unit of energy comparable to the amount of energy produced by burning one barrel of crude oil.

Unfortunately, at current wood biomass prices the process is not yet economically competitive with traditional crude oil refining.  But who knows, as fuel prices continue to rise this process may become competitive and a new market for wood could develop especially in wood rich states that have slowly seen their paper industry decline.

You can read the full story or watch a video on the discovery.
Edited from Ernest Scheyder, Reuters, ORONO, Maine
Tuesday, October 18, 2011

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