BY: DUSTIN BATTY
As the environmental impact and limited nature of fossil fuel resources becomes more evident, people are pushing to find more environmentally sustainable and renewable sources of energy. Great strides have been made toward finding renewable ways to generate electricity, with the implementation of wind farms and the swift improvement of solar panel technology. Even land transportation is vastly improved from 10 years ago; electric vehicles are on the rise, reducing the amount of fossil fuels used for driving. Another method for driving without fossil fuels is the use of biofuels.
A biofuel is a liquid fuel derived from contemporary organic matter, unlike fossil fuels, which use prehistoric organic matter. The most common biofuel used in America is ethanol, which is made from corn, potatoes, and other fruits and vegetables. In Europe, the most popular biofuel is biodiesel, which is made from animal fat, vegetable oil, and various other organic oils.
Scientists have managed to convert grass into a biofuel.
Though biofuels are better than fossil fuels, they aren’t perfect. They don’t produce many greenhouse gasses, but they do release formaldehyde, acetaldehyde, and nitrous oxide into the atmosphere. So though they are a big step forward for sustainability, they are still not as environmentally sound as electric cars.
But this doesn’t mean that biofuel doesn’t still have a role to play. As researchers at Ghent University point out, “while cars are turning electric, planes are not—and they will not do so in the coming two decades at least.” It just so happens that these researchers have created a process that can make aviation fuel from one of the most abundant renewable resources on the planet: Grass.
Through a series of chemical conversions, the scientists were able to turn grass into decane, which is “a primary ingredient in gasoline and jet fuel,” according to an Engadget article. This so-called ‘grassoline’ could provide a sustainable alternative to fossil fuels for aviation while we wait the couple of decades it will take to develop electric plane technology.
The fuel it makes is decane, one of the main ingredients in jet fuel.
Of course, commercial grassoline is still a few years away. Right now the Ghent team is only able to make “a few drops” at a time. But they say that their research supports the viability of this method: “The results indicate that the overall conversion can be highly efficient.” All they need is some time and some support. “If we can keep working on optimizing this process, particularly in cooperation with industrial partners, the efficiency will come up and feasibility will follow,” says Way Cern Khor, a member of the research team. “And maybe in a few years we can all fly on grass!”
If this process can be made cheap and efficient, the huge availability of grass could make grassoline the go-to combustion fuel of the future.