In the ongoing food versus fuel discussion, using waste products from agriculture or municipal waste is often cited as being the solution as to how to produce liquid biofuels without impacting available agricultural land and increasing food prices. Producing liquid biofuels from wood waste is promising from the standpoint of availability, but is more difficult to turn into usable fuel than other products. However, a new breakthrough from China, reported on in New Scientist, offers a potential solution to this problem.
Lignin Broken Down Under Near-Critical Water
In summary, the process developed by Yuan Kou and a team of researchers at Peking University, breaks down the lignin in the wood by breaking carbon-oxygen-carbon bonds using highly heated, highly pressurized water as a solvent. When combined with a catalyst and hydrogen gas, water heated to 250-300Â°C and pressurized to 7000 kilopascals has been found to reliably break down these C-O-C bonds to be produce alkanes and alcohols needed for biofuels."For the first time, we have produced alkanes, the main component of gasoline and diesel, from lignin, and biomethanol becomes available. A large percentage of the starting material is converted into useful products, but this is still in its infancy so other aspects related to economic issue will be evaluated in the near future," Yan said.
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