Jun 222007

And now for something a little less contentious and a whole lot more positive. Transportation Fuel From Sugar. No, it’s not ethanol. In fact, it’s something better, cleaner, easier and cheaper to make and longer-lived than ethanol.

It’s 2,5-dimethylfuran (DMF), a liquid transportation fuel with 40% greater energy density than ethanol. The link gives a sound outline of the discovery and paints DMF as potentially a far greater prospect as a fossil fuel replacement than ethanol could ever hope to be.
You see, ethanol is hygroscopic, meaning that it has a tendancy to attract and encapsulate water molecules. Stored ethanol will always have a percentage of water in its makeup which detracts from its energy potential and when burnt in an internal combustion engine, leaves an oxygenated residue which creates corrosion. Essentially, ethanol rusts your engine.
DMF results from a catalytic chemical reaction between the simple sugar, fructose, and a mixture of hydrochloric acid and salt. This reaction produces an intermediate compound known by the glorious name of hydroxymethylfurfural (HMF). A second catalytic reaction, this time involving HMF and a copper-based element, results in DMF. DMF has fewer oxygen molecules in its makeup, so burns hotter, cleaner and more readily, has a higher octane rating than standard unleaded petrol or petrol/ethanol blends, has a greater energy potential than either and isn’t hygroscopic.
DMF also boils at a higher temperature than either petrol or ethanol, which makes it less likely to evaporate during storage, or as we lawn mowing types would know, less likely to ‘go off’ as petrol will do in a can over winter.
It’s early days for DMF, but as its creation is essentially a cracking process, not unlike that used to produce petroleum fuels from crude oil, scaling up commercial production of DMF could be undertaken by existing oil refineries efficiently and economically.
The question arises though, what about the ethanol lobby?
Oh, by the way, on the subject of Vroooom!, the V8’s are in the Top End this weekend for round six of the championship. Further news from that quarter as it happens.