The U.S. Energy Department is investing up to $4.3 million in a pilot biomass project that will convert the stalks and leaves of corn plants into diesel fuel using a new chemical process.
The pilot plant in Indiana will be run by Mercurius Biofuels, whose goal is to convert the corn biomass into fuel at prices cheap enough to compete with petroleum. Mercurius’s process uses recyclable acids to break down cellulose and make a chemical called chloromethylfurfural, which can be converted into diesel or jet fuel.
The inventor of the process, Mark Mascal, a professor of chemistry at the University of California, Davis, says the technology makes more efficient use of the carbon in cellulose and avoids the significant releases of carbon dioxide involved in a common way of making fuel from biomass — converting the cellulose into sugar and fermenting it to make ethanol.
Mercurius says the corn stalks and leaves can be converted into chloromethylfurfural at small, local plants and then shipped to larger refineries to make diesel fuel, thus avoiding the high cost of shipping the biomass itself to a central refinery.
Article appearing courtesy Yale Environment 360.