Cellulose fuel

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Cellulose is the most common form of photosynthetically fixed carbon. The problem is that the degradation of cellulose into its individual sugar components, which could then be fermented, is a slow and expensive process. Mark Mascal and Edward B. Nikitin at the University of California Davis have developed a new method for the direct conversion of cellulose into furan-based biofuels. As they report in August 2008 in the journal Angewandte Chemie, their simple, inexpensive process delivers furanic compounds in yields never achieved before. They have developed a simple process for the conversion of cellulose directly into furanics, which are furan-based organic liquids. Furans are molecules whose basic unit is an aromatic ring made of one oxygen and four carbon atoms. The main product the researchers obtain under the conditions they have been developing is 5-chloromethylfurfural (CMF). CMF and ethanol can be combined to give ethoxymethylfufural (EMF), and CMF reacts with hydrogen to give 5-methylfurfural. Both of these compounds are suitable as fuels. EMF has previously been investigated and found to be of interest in mixtures with diesel by Avantium Technologies, a spin-off of Shell. "Our method appears to be the most efficient conversion of cellulose into simple, hydrophobic, organic compounds described to date," says Mascal. "It also surpasses the carbon yields of glucose and sucrose fermentation. Furanics could be established as both the automotive energy source and chemical starting material of the future."