Scientists have created a ready-to-use recipe to turn sawdust into gasoline, which can help existing gas plants generate greener fuel.
Researchers at Katholieke Universiteit (KU) Leuven in Belgium have made it possible to convert the cellulose -- the main component of plant fibres -- in the sawdust into hydrocarbon chains. These hydrocarbons can be used as an additive in gasoline.
The resulting cellulose gasoline is a second generation biofuel, said Bert Sels from KU Leuven. "We start with plant waste and use a chemical process to make a product that is a perfect replica of its petrochemical counterpart," said Sels. "In the end product, you can only tell the difference with fossil gasoline using carbon dating," he said.
In 2014, the researchers built a chemical reactor in their lab, with which they can produce cellulose gasoline on a small scale. "But the question remained how the industry can integrate this and could produce it in large quantities," Sels said.
Researchers identified the section of the existing petroleum refining process in which the cellulose is best added to the petroleum to obtain a strongly bio-sourced gasoline. "We now have a ready-to-use recipe for cellulose gasoline that the industry can apply directly: without loss of quality for the gasoline and making maximum use of existing installations," said Sels.
Cellulose gasoline must be seen as a transitional phase, he said. The cellulose is still mixed with petroleum: this gasoline will never be sourced 100 per cent from renewable raw materials, the researchers said. Current consumption is too high to produce all gasoline from plant waste. "However, our product does already offer the possibility of using greener gasoline while a large proportion of the vehicles on our roads still run on liquid fuel," Sels said.