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Scientists use chemistry to add oomph to biofuel

Published on Nov 8, 2012 6:24 AM

PARIS (AFP) - Affordable fuel from grasses, trees and plant waste that packs enough of a punch to power a plane? Scientists said on Wednesday this can be done using chemistry to boost basic fermentation processes.

A team at the University of California in Berkeley said it had developed a method to add carbon atoms to biofuels obtained from fermentation - currently not potent enough to replace gasoline, jet fuel or diesel.

Using the same 100-year-old biological process employed in ethanol production, the team manufactured alcohol and acetone by fermenting sugars obtainable from anything from grasses, trees, corn, sugar beets, sorghum or even plant waste, according to a study in the journal Nature.

The alcohol and acetone is then put through a catalytic chemical process to boost the number of carbon atoms from two per molecule, as in traditional ethanol, to between seven and 15, co-author Harvey Blanch told AFP. This is similar to the carbon mass of current jet and diesel fuels.

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