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UC Berkeley scientists use century-old process to produce renewable fuel

November 08, 2012
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BERKELEY, Calif. — Scientists at the UC Berkeley have discovered that a nearly 100-year-old fermentation process once used to turn starch into explosives can be used to produce renewable diesel fuel.

A team of chemists and chemical engineers produced diesel fuel from the products of a bacterial fermentation discovered almost a century ago by Israeli chemist Chaim Weizmann. The retooled process produces a mix of products that contain more energy per gallon than ethanol and could be commercialized within five to 10 years.

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While the fuel’s cost is still higher than diesel or gasoline made from fossil fuels, the scientists said the process would drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions from transportation.

“What I am really excited about is that this is a fundamentally different way of taking feedstocks — sugar or starch — and making all sorts of renewable things, from fuels to commodity chemicals like plastics,” said Dean Toste, professor of chemistry and co-author of a report on the new development that will appear in the Nov. 8 issue of the journal Nature.

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