MIT team breaks through on low-cost sustainable path for new fuel molecule

June 17, 2013 |

In Massachusetts, researchers at MIT have developed a new technique to make cost-effective renewable gamma-valerolactone (GVL). The molecule has more energy density than ethanol and can be used as a fuel both in drop-in form and as an additive for other fuels. The MIT team also said that renewable GVL can be used as a solvent, and as a renewable building block chemical for the producution of bio-based materials. the t has more energy than ethanol and could be used on its own or as an additive to other fuels. GVL could also be useful as a “green” solvent or a building block for creating renewable polymers from sustainable materials. The traditional process for converting plant material to GVL requires catalysts made from precious metals and must be done at very high pressures of hydrogen gas, which makes the process cost prohibitive.

The new MIT method, by contrast, uses a series of cascading reactions slightly different from the traditional pathway. Instead of converting hemicellulose directly to levulinic acid, they first convert it to furfural, a molecule that contains a five-member ring. Starting with furfural, the researchers then launch a cascade in which they open up the ring, add hydrogen atoms, then close it into a new ring — GVL.The catalyst for this series of reactions is a zeolite — a porous silicate mineral containing zirconium and aluminum, both abundant metals.

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Category: Research

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