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Waste to fuel process wins award

alt fuel
Pacific Northwest researchers have developed a process that turns levulinic acid into products such as alternative automotive fuel ingredients.   

July 1, 1999
Web posted at: 1:20 p.m. EDT (1720 GMT)


An innovative energy-saving project that could lead to low cost alternative fuels has received the Environmental Protection Agency Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge Award.

The project, introduced by a small Massachusetts company called Biofine, has lead to an economical method of turning paper mill waste into levulinic acid, an important, multipurpose chemical.

Levulinic acid can be used to make a range of everyday products, including petrochemicals. Created through the Biofine process for as little as one-tenth the cost of current manufacturing processes, the acid can be made with virtually any biomass waste product.

Those cost savings are key to using a second process that creates, from levulinic acid, an important component for use in alternative fuels. The Department of Energy Pacific Northwest National Laboratory has partnered with Biofine and developed the first ever multi-step, catalytic process to convert levulinic acid to useful products, including an alternative fuel component called methyltetrahydrofuran.

Methyltetrahydrofuran can be used with ethanol and natural gas liquids to create a cleaner-burning fuel for cars and trucks that produces less air pollution than petroleum-based gasoline.

"Our system incorporates multiple chemical reaction steps into one process and creates higher yields than previously available," said Doug Elliott of Pacific Northwest's chemical process development group. The process produces about 110 gallons of alternative fuel component for every 100 gallons of levulinic acid.

"This is an exciting technology emerging from DOE's investments in biomass conversion, a field where we are literally just touching the surface of the potential for using low-value and waste biomass material for valuable products," said Dennis Stiles, manager of Agriculture and Food Processing Technology programs at Pacific Northwest. "In the near future, the technology will be expanded to produce levulinic acid from other organic wastes, such as straw, as well as producing a variety of other chemical products, such as solvents, herbicides and plastics, in addition to (methyltetrahydrofuran)."

Researchers are optimistic about the success of the project because levulinic acid is economical -- unlike most alternative feedstocks -- and can be converted to a large number of other chemicals. Using low-cost and abundant waste feedstocks such as paper mill sludge, municipal solid waste, unrecyclable waste paper, waste wood and agricultural residues, the process also offers a welcome alternative to landfills.

Copyright 1999, Environmental News Network, All Rights Reserved

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Department of Energy
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