Belgian scientists have produced the building blocks of gasoline from sawdust. Jim Drury reports.
Sawdust could have a role in cutting global emissions, if University of Leuven researchers have their way. They're converting wood waste into the building blocks for eco-friendly gasoline and petroleum-free plastic. (SOUNDBITE (English) SANDER VAN DEN BOSCH, RESEARCHER AT UNIVERSITY OF LEUVEN, SAYING: "We add wood to a reactor and then we also need a catalyst, which is a specific material that will do the chemical reactions in the wood so it will selectively depolymerise our lignin material into chemicals; and then last but not least we also need solvent to extract the lignin out of the solid material and there we can use water for or also various kinds of bio-derived alcohols." In 12 hours their unique chemical process converts the cellulose in sawdust into hydrocarbon chains and removes the oxygen. One simple step remains before fully-distilled gasoline is formed. The team is seeking commercial partners to scale up its technology. (SOUNDBITE) (English) ARON DENEYER, RESEARCHER AT UNIVERSITY OF LEUVEN, SAYING: "We get the identical structures as we have from crude oil, so we have a very interesting fuel that we can use immediately but we think it's better to use it as an additive because in the short term you have a lot of targets we get from the European Union and from different governments...So we can tackle it by adding some percent(age), small percentage - five percent or something - into gasoline." Even abandoned chippings containing chemical materials can be used. (SOUNDBITE (English) WOUTER SCHUTYSER, RESEARCHER AT UNIVERSITY OF LEUVEN, SAYING: "These woods are used for construction, for furniture. These contain not only just wood, but also contain paints and other stuff, so we try to convert this, which is used as a low value energy source at the moment and we try to make high value chemicals and fuels from it." Once regarded as close to useless, sawdust could become a key ingredient in governments' bids to meet their growing environmental obligations.