It turns out that some really smart people at the University of Wisconsin have discovered a way to make sugar into gasoline, diesel, or even jet fuel. This discovery means that just about any plant can be turned into fuel - not ethanol, which would require designing and mass producing vehicles capable of using it. The fuel created by these scientists can be used as-is in the cars we already own. The new technology creates "a conventional fuel that happens to be made from sustainable sources," according to lead chemical engineer of the research James Dumesic.
OK - how great is this? We are now capable of producing a biofuel that can be used by everyone, not just the environmentally-inclined rich who can afford to swap cars every few years. Not only that, but according to the researchers the process converts sugar to fuel in a matter of minutes, not the days of fermenting it takes to make ethanol. They use platinum/rhenium alloy nanoparticles to catalyze a reaction in the sugar to create fuel with about 65% efficiency in their lab-scale project. The rest of the sugar is converted to ethane or propane, and could conveniently be used as another source of natural gas.
A new door of sustainable energy has now been opened, and we'd be crazy not to go through it. On top of the benefit of creating a useful fuel from plants, the new discovery has an added bonus: less carbon dioxide emission when used. So they found a method of turning biomass into biofuel that is fast, efficient, and manageable. I think these guys deserve a big round of applause!
Dumesic and his colleagues announced their findings in the Sept. 18, 2008 online ScienceExpress, to be followed in print in the Oct. 18, 2008, issue of Science.