Innovative biofuel shows promise in conserving resources and curtailing carbon emissions

Written by
Suleman Din, School of Engineering and Applied Science
July 12, 2017

Princeton researchers are exploring the potential for an alternative fuel that is relatively cheap, avoids consuming prime natural resources, and is able to reduce carbon emissions that cause climate change and contribute to pollution.

Researchers at the Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment evaluated a method that creates fuel from biomass, including wood residues, sawdust and branches. The method, called catalytic hydropyrolysis, could use the refining and distribution systems now used for gasoline to create a fuel that would work in modern engines.

“If we want to limit carbon emissions to a safe level, we’re very likely going to have to leave some oil in the ground,” said Eric Larson, a senior research engineer at the Andlinger Center and an author of the paper. “It’s a lot easier if we can find an alternative fuel that we can put into our existing infrastructure.”

Catalytic hydropyrolysis creates combustible oil by heating biomass in the absence of oxygen. The Princeton researchers designed systems that could create a zero-carbon vehicle fuel, meaning that creating and burning it results in no net emission of carbon. Integrating carbon-capture technology into some of the designs, they found it could actually pull carbon out of the atmosphere while creating fuel.

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