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See Inside January 2008

Fueling Alternatives

Engineers make progress toward new green fuels and energy storage devices

Despite efforts to brew ethanol as a sustainable automotive fuel substitute for gasoline, the plant-derived alcohol has its drawbacks. A gallon (3.8 liters) of ethanol, for one, contains almost a third less energy than the same volume of gasoline.

So when James A. Dumesic and his fellow chemical engineers at the University of Wisconsin–Madison developed a straightforward way to extract a synthetic fuel from sugar that in many ways surpasses ethanol, the scientific community took notice. Called 2,5-dimethylfuran, or simply DMF, the fuel possesses an energy density equivalent to that of gasoline. It is also insoluble in water and stable in storage. Although chemists have long known about the compound, volume production has been tricky. The new two-step process makes improvements in an intermediate manufacturing step that was a barrier to mass production of DMF.

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