Biogasoline could be joining biodiesel at the pumps


February 6, 2014

Scientists have succeeded in converting plant waste to gasoline (Photo: Shutterstock)

Scientists have succeeded in converting plant waste to gasoline (Photo: Shutterstock)

By now, most people have at least a passing knowledge of biodiesel – it's diesel fuel made from plant or animal oils, as opposed to the more traditional and less eco-friendly petroleum. While it's a good choice for people with diesel-powered vehicles, those of us with gas-burning cars haven't been able to get in on the action ... although that may be about to change.

Diesel fuel, of both the traditional and bio varieties, is made up of linear hydrocarbons. These are long straight chains of carbon atoms, and they differ from the shorter, branched chains – known as branched hydrocarbons – that make up gasoline. It's possible to create linear hydrocarbons from things like plant waste, but it hasn't been possible to use that same source to produce branched hydrocarbons that have the volatility of gasoline.

At least, not until now.

Led by Prof. Mark Mascal, a team at the University of California, Davis has used a feedstock of levulinic acid to create biogasoline. Levulinic acid is itself derived from pretty much any cellulosic material, such as corn stalks, straw or other plant waste.

That waste does not have to be fermented, plus the fuel-making process is reportedly inexpensive and offers waste-to-gas yields of over 60 percent. The university has filed a patent on the technology

A paper on the research was recently published in the journal Angewandte Chemie.

Source: UC Davis

About the Author
Ben Coxworth An experienced freelance writer, videographer and television producer, Ben's interest in all forms of innovation is particularly fanatical when it comes to human-powered transportation, film-making gear, environmentally-friendly technologies and anything that's designed to go underwater. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, where he spends a lot of time going over the handlebars of his mountain bike, hanging out in off-leash parks, and wishing the Pacific Ocean wasn't so far away. All articles by Ben Coxworth

Here's hoping it leaves your exhaust smelling like french fries. . . like biodiesel does. :)


Couldn't you call any blend of corn-based ethenol and gasoline a "biopetrol"????

The Skud

The Skud, the article describes a product - a 'biopetrol' that would be a direct replacement for gasoline. You refer to a 'blend' of ethanol and gasoline, with the current acceptable recipe calling for 90% gasoline to 10% ethanol.

So in my opinion, no. They are two distinctly different formulas/products.

Noel K Frothingham

This may sound like a "break through" but in reality, it can be done using existing conventional equipment. This would be a cracker followed by a hydrotreater designed to handle a higher oxygen load than petrochemical oils. The final twist is that there is a layer of isomerising catalyst in the bottom of the hydrotreater to change from polymers from linear to branched. We are doing this in synthetic diesel production from biomass. In our case we do not crack all the way down to gasoline (but could) and then hydrotreat and, in winter, isomerise.

Rex Zietsman

Whenever I hear mention of bio-fuels among the things that spring to mind is a long conversation that I once had with a fuel engineer who worked for a well-known aero engine manufacturer.

This happened about six years ago now, so things might have improved in the meantime, but this engineer expressed a concern that her work on bio-fuels had shown that they degraded markedly compared to conventional fuels and storage needed careful monitoring. (Obviously, long-term on-board storage is not a problem with aero engines.)

I imagine most diesel engined vehicles also cycle their fuel quite rapidly, especially seeing as most are commercial in nature. On the other hand, gasoline powered vehicles sometimes gather dust for months, only coming out on high days and holidays. I assume such usage will be considered in the event of any changeover to bio-gasoline. It might make little difference or it might be vital.

It would be sad for the family, all dressed up in their Sunday best, to get into their 1928 vintage Bentley, which is their pride and joy, to go for a trip to the sea-side, only for it not to start because the fuel had degraded too much over the winter. (Even starting the thing every fortnight or so, wouldn't do anything to help fix the problem, if problem there be, of course.)

Mel Tisdale

Well,Mel,anybody owning any kind of vehicle that is put in storage for months should know that fuel,even petroleum based fuel,deteriorates over time-ignorance is no excuse.


While this is interesting, I always wonder how much cheaper is it, is it as powerful as current fuels, and what will it cost at the pump? Also, what changes to vehicle fuel delivery systems must be made… it all sounds good, but is it economically viable, and can it be mass-produced?


Great; just in time for electric and fuel-cell vehicles. Seriously, this makes the arguments against fracking, drilling and pipeline a LOT more credible.

Robert Fallin

Will it become illegal to make our own?


Don't hold your breath. When an academic institution makes an announcement like this, you can be guaranteed they're angling for more grant money. I've counted over a thousand such "breakthrough" articles over the last decade, and have yet to see any of them result in a real product. How many decades have we pursued the elusive fusion power, and how many hundreds of billion dollars spent without reaching breakthrough?

This is not to say that energy technology won't continue to improve, but the evolutionary path to combustion-free power is going to take time.

Pat Kelley

The concept sound great. What is the effect on gaskets, O-rings, hoses, and other components historically used in the auto industry.

The present usage of ethanol causes fuel usage issues. Increasing ethanol percentage then causes hardening of gaskets, O-rings, hoses and other components.

If this new technology is going to force automobile replacement to use, the value to consumers declines until the rapid change of fueling technology stabilizes.


Anything to keep us off of foreign oil is good enough for me; fraking, drilling, switchgrass, etc.

Jeff Michelson

Thank you for this informative and interesting article.

Julie Rosenthal

There's already a biofuel replacement for gasoline. Isopropanol. Vehicles don't need modification to use it and many get the same MPG as with gasoline.

The problem with it is there's no government funding, which is mostly going to electric and hybrids using conventional fuels.

Same problem as hydraulic hybrids had in the late 70's, despite proving they could get 60+ MPG and have freeway cruising speed capability. The grant money was only going to pure electric vehicles.

Right now the USA is a net exporter of both crude oil and gasoline, yet we're still importing oil. There needs to be some changes in that. If we're pumping more oil than we're using, WTH are we importing oil and exporting gasoline?!?! Also WTH is gasoline still over $3 a gallon if there's so much excess produced?

Gregg Eshelman

great...another fuel competing for our food.


It must be determined how much energy is consumed to produce the energy... and how much biomass is needed to produce such fuel?

Gallon for gallon, Water has 2.5 times the combustive energy of gasoline BUT gasoline must only be vaporized to burn while water must be atomized which,so far,requires more energy (on demand) than can be efficiently applied.

RIP,Stan Meyer.

Gasoline does NOT burn as a liquid- it spontaneously vaporizes from the heat generated by the burning vapor.

So,anyway- as for this fuel,realistically, How many acres (and how much time&money) would it take to produce enough biomass to provide significant fuel?

Sadly,University research is far too often more into job-security than "fast-track" development.... ESPECIALLY in California.

UC San Diego just got $100 million dollars for a stem cell research center- Research is BIG business... even in universities.

REMEMBER: the world is as dependent on plastic and other petrochemical products as it is on fuel oil- there are alternatives for this BUT the infrastructure is NOT in place to utilize them.

Big oil "stagnant quo" is just as powerful in that stranglehold as it is in just the energy field.

I wish these guys all the best but I would not expect this to become significantly utilized for 20 years or more... if ever.

Sadly, I have to consider this to be a great concept on the surface that is far from being a practical solution.

We NEED water- yet we cannot even efficiently desalinate seawater?

This planet is mostly COVERED in water.... yet we call it "earth"!

Ok, ramble on... ramble off.



Mass produce & lisc for CA market, esp So CA market. Needed. Pay near 4.00 for Regular gas, need some price competition alone.

Stephen Russell

Like many mentioned already. University research using taxpayer money patenting for its own benefit should not be allowed. Products like these will never be available to the market because researchers will receive additional funds from oil companies and put this research into basements.


I have to roll my eyes at the "great...another fuel competing for our food." comment and wonder if Ed even read the article. The last time I checked, humans weren't eating "corn stalks, straw or other plant waste."

Then there was Gregg Eshelman's comment "...Isopropanol. Vehicles don't need modification to use it..." Diesel engines don't need to be modified to run on Biodiesel. Perhaps you are thinking of engines that are converted to run on vegetable oil? Gasoline engines wouldn't need any modification to run on biogasoline, either.

Plus, if it works the way biodiesel does in diesel engines, biogasoline will actually lubricate the gaskets, o-rings, and hoses used in the car industry per the question that BaPaRoy raised.

I'd like to see the DIY community figure out a way to produce biogasoline at home, the same way it figured out how to produce biodiesel from used vegetable oil. If plant waste is a truly possible source, we could use our lawn trimmings to create biogasoline for our cars.

Gene Jordan

@ Gene Jordan Corn stalks at least are great cattle feed. Beef it's what's for dinner.


They could genetically engineer corn plants not to grow ears? I could an other bin! Let's see, now I have the trash bin I roll out to the street every Wednesday, the recycle bin I roll out every other week, the green waste bin I roll out every other week, the aluminum can bin I cash in every few months and the plastic bottle bin I cash in a couple times a year. Now I can add the biogas bin, toss in plant waste, pour out gas for my car. I don't have room for a car now.

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