Thursday, May 22, 2008

Chemically Derived Transport Fuels

With oil and gas prices rising even higher today there is no doubt that synthetic fuels are begged for if not required. This, of course, includes biofuels because if you think about it, all fuels are 'biofuels' the only difference is whether or not they are renewable or sustainable. Interesting news in the past week indicates even more work has accomplished positive results in the field of chemically derived transportation fuels. Researchers at the Biofuels Center of North Carolina have indicated that their 'centia' process allows the conversion of any lipid-like material (fats) to be converted into the three most sought after transport fuels, (jet fuel, gasoline, and diesel). This technology, while new, is not the first to be able to accomplish this feat. However, it is encouraging since they are able to take a relatively abundant resource (fats) and convert them into a 'drop-in' substitute for the fuels listed above.
Before jumping for joy in the hopes that this is a solution to our energy problems in the near term, here are a few things to pour cold water over your head. First off, even though they were able to prove that the process works, the next step is to generate these fuels on "a few gallon level." (Their words). A few gallons is hardly enough to make a splash in today's society. Also, the process requires high-heat and it remains to be seen whether this process is environmentally or commercially competitive, even at these high prices. The bottom line is that it is a start and it is refreshing to see that several different avenues to the same goal are being investigated. For what it is worth, I believe strongly in biological catalysts holding the key to converting renewables into gasoline substitutes. This is because even though chemical catalysts are easier to produce and mold to the researcher's exact specifications, they tend to cost much more and foul much more easily than a biological method.

If you want to read more about the process, here is a link:

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