UC researchers find new method to make bio-diesel


This work comes out of the Chemistry and Bio-Molecular Engineering at UC Berkeley's College of Chemistry where they've come up with a fuel that's sustainable, would reduce greenhouse gases, and reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil.

Graduate student Zack Baer works in the fermentation room at UC Berkeley's Energy and Biosciences Institute. It's a place where finding alternative fuels is what it's all about, only this time, it was an unprecedented marriage of biology and chemistry that resulted in a breakthrough.

"By having this institute, we are in constant contact and we do interact and that really brought the two fields back together and leveraged the best of both worlds," Baer said. He is a lead author on research that has yielded a fuel made from plant material, not food sources like the problematic corn, but the corn stalk or grass or trees for that matter. The key is the natural sugars in plants.

"We can now get blendable fuels that we go in and mix with diesel. So perhaps, not replace diesel, but mix with them and extend the capability," said Berkeley's Harvey Blanch, Ph.D. Researchers took tried-and-true industrial fermentation techniques to get ethanol, butenol, and acetone, found a new way to take out the toxic butenol and acetone, and then a new way to vaporize it.

The resulting blendable fuel could be in cars, trucks and airplanes in 5 to 10 years, but we were close to this goal after the 1970s oil crisis and never quite made it. "We have more technology but once more, it very much depends on what I'll call 'political will' to make this happen," Blanch said. "So, technology can't solve the problem of this magnitude. It has to be done in concert with Washington."

The study was published in the journal "Nature."

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