CHEMISTRY: A Fruitful Fuel Proposal

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Science  07 Mar 2008:
Vol. 319, Issue 5868, pp. 1309d
DOI: 10.1126/science.319.5868.1309d

Sustainable alternatives to gasoline and diesel fuels will need to recapitulate some of the properties that make currently used fuels attractive energy carriers, such as low vapor pressure and stable long-term storage. Horváth et al. examined the properties of one such alternative, γ-valerolactone (GVL)—a small cyclic ester produced by fruits and used as a food additive. Compared to methanol, ethanol, and methyl and ethyl tert-butyl ethers, GVL has a much lower vapor pressure, which reduces volatile emissions, and also low melting and flash points that facilitate safe storage. It is not readily hydrolyzed to the acid under pH-neutral conditions, nor does it readily form peroxides. Because GVL does not form an azeotrope with water, less energy is needed to recover it through distillation. The authors have explored catalytic routes to GVL from sucrose and conclude that with further advances in synthetic efficiency from biomass, GVL could serve as an oxygenated fuel additive or even a fossil-fuel replacement on its own. — PDS

Green Chem. 10, 238 (2008).

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