Lab breakthroughs promise new fuels

EMBED </>More Videos

Two projects could change the gas you pump into your car, or at least how it?s made. (KGO)

Two projects could change the gas you pump into your car, or at least how it's made.

For Professor Mark Mascal, Ph.D., moving the world from fossil fuels really just boils down to a chemistry problem.

His team at U.C. Davis has uncovered a cost efficient way to transform plant waste into fuel for cars. Not ethanol, or even biodiesel, but a kind of biogasoline.

"The real breakthrough is that most of the work in this area generates diesel type fuels," Professor Mascal explains. "And the interest in what we're doing here is that we generate gasoline type molecules, which is much more difficult to do."

And unlike some biofuel formulas, which involve fermenting the sugars locked inside plants, the new U.C. Davis process employs a series of chemical catalysts. That chain is able convert an acid extracted from plant mass into a complex, gasoline like hydrocarbon.

"It's basically normal gasoline," Mascal adds. "Just like 80 octane gasoline you would put in your car."

He says the team has obtained a patent for the new process, which will allow the university to seek out partners to eventually take it from the lab to commercial scale.

Meanwhile, in a new pilot plant in Hayward, a Bay Area company is already ramping up its own alternative method for producing gasoline. San Francisco based Siluria has developed a two-step process that can convert methane, or plentiful natural gas, into gasoline using heat and a proprietary catalyst.

"When the gasses interact with the catalyst it forms gasoline or liquid fuels in the reactor," says Greg Nyce, Associate Director of Fuels.

The company has two facilities in the Bay Area, and another under construction in Texas. Founder Erik Scher believes the process can produce gasoline for roughly a dollar a gallon,

"What we're trying to do here is enable a natural gas based economy, which I truly believe is going to occur. I don't think it's the only solution to the world's energy problems, but I do think it's a key portion," Scher argues.

While the technologies differ, both projects share the same goal of fueling a revolution at the pump.

Written and produced by Tim Didion
Related Topics:
automotivegas pricesoilUC DavisSan FranciscoDavisHayward
(Copyright ©2018 KGO-TV. All Rights Reserved.)