Bio-fuels have been in vogue for sometime, with fuel alternatives and additives such as biodiesel and ethanol being touted as methods for stemming oil dependence. There is also biogasoline, regular gasoline made from organic materials, which is slowly making it’s way toward the market.
Sugar in the tank
Ever hear of putting sugar in someone’s gas tank as a malicious prank? According to HowStuffWorks, it doesn’t actually work; sugar will just float to the bottom. At most, it might clog the fuel filter. However, there are a growing number of companies that are fueling cars from sugar.
More specifically, there is a process of making biogasoline, actual gasoline made from organic matter, employing the natural sugars in plants to create it. Biogasoline also doesn’t, according to the Houston Chronicle, require engine and fuel system modifications to use a blended biogasoline and petroleum gasoline blend, unlike ethanol and some types of biodiesel.
Uncommonly common ingredients
Sugars are one of the building blocks of plant matter; all plants, from the apple to the apple tree, have sugars of one kind or another, which are a key ingredient to harvesting some biofuels.
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Biogasoline uses a different process than ethanol, which is created by simple distillation. Exact methods differ, but the end result is that sugars from various plant material, even including wood, are converted into a hydrocarbon gas, which is treated with other gases and chemicals and refined into gasoline. Unlike ethanol, it’s a “drop-in” fuel, which means it can be blended with gasoline with no ill-effects and with no modifications needed.
Slow but promising growth
So far, the rock star of biogasoline is a company called Virent Energy Systems. Virent, accoring to the Houston Chronicle, uses a catalyst with plant matter, which induces the sugars in the plant to produce hydrocarbon molecules. According to CNET, Shell, Cargill and Honda had invested in Virent to work on creating a process for making biogasoline on a large scale. Virent’s process, according to BiofuelsDigest, has been shown to work using leftover material from pine tree harvesting and corn stover, leftover material from corn harvests.
Virent even got some racing promotion, as Scuderia Ferrari, Ferrari’s Formula One team, used Virent’s fuel for the last three races of the 2010 season, according to AutoBlog. Apparently it worked, as Ferrari’s drivers finished first and third in the first of those races, according to the Telegraph, one of which was two-time champion Fernando Alonso.
Another company, Primus Green Energy, according to CNET, has its own proprietary method, where wood pellets are gasified by heating with super-hot steam, producing a hydrocarbon gas. Then, natural gas is added and the mixture is cleaned of impurities before a catalyst is introduced. Other materials can be used as well. The end result is a high-octane biogasoline and water. The process produces 500 pounds of biogasoline (about 62 gallons) of biogasoline per ton of plant matter, at a cost of about $2 per gallon.
Other companies are sprouting up, but it will be some time before it’s on sale at the local gas station.
The Telegraph: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/sport/motorsport/formulaone/8083767/F1-Korean-Grand-Prix-Fernando-Alonso-wins-in-Yeongam-as-both-Red-Bulls-fail-to-finish.html
Biofuels Digest: http://www.biofuelsdigest.com/bdigest/2011/06/03/virent-makes-biogasoline-from-corn-stover-pine-waste/