Image courtesy of SlapBcn via flickr
It might lack the pizzazz of your everyday solar or wind energy piece, but this somewhat obscure study of gamma-valerolactone (GVL), a cyclic ester produced by fruits and commonly used as a food additive, could have much larger implications for renewable energy - at least in the short term. A team of researchers, led by Eötvös University's István T. Horváth, examined GVL's properties as a sustainable fuel additive or outright alternative, concluding that its physical and chemical properties made it an attractive candidate.Horváth and his colleagues found GVL to share two crucial properties with gasoline an diesel fuels: low vapor pressure and stable long-term storage; these two properties, which reduce the potential for volatile emissions and facilitate storage and transportation, are key to understanding why gasoline and diesel fuels are such appealing energy carriers.
GVL is not toxic and has some solubility in water, which is necessary for biodegradation, though it doesn't react with it and oxygen under ambient conditions. With further improvements in biofuel technologies, the authors believe GVL could serve as an oxygenated fuel additive. The authors argue that its properties would make it an ideal candidate for use in the production of carbon-based consumer products or energy.
The big "if," of course, is whether GVL can be "efficiencly produced from biomass, preferentially from ligno-cellulose," as the authors explain in their conclusion. Since it is already widely used in the chemical and food industry, there is no reason to believe its production couldn't further be scaled up for it to be used as a fuel additive or alternative (though it remains to be seen whether this incurs any of a number of environmental costs).
Via ::Science: Editors' Choice (journal)