Scientists turn light energy, biomass into diesel fuel, hydrogen

Chinese scientists recently realized light energy and biomass conversion to diesel fuel and hydrogen.

The research team, which is led by Professor Wang Feng from the Dalian Institute of Chemical Physics of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, developed a method to produce diesel fuel and hydrogen by exploiting light energy (solar energy or artificial light energy) and biomass-derived feedstock.

Their findings were published on the latest journal of Nature Energy, a monthly scientific journal.

According to Wang, biomass, including agricultural straw and forest waste, is the largest source of sustainable carbon resources in nature and is able to replace petrochemical resources to provide abundant derivative products.

Splitting biomass or its derivatives usually yields higher light transformation efficiency and high rates of hydrogen production. Nevertheless, oxidative products derived from biomass are mostly useless, causing waste of sustainable biomass resources and environmental pollution, according to the findings.

Therefore, developing technologies that merge hydrogen production and biomass conversion into value-added chemicals or fuels is expected to bring about a “double guarantee” of materials and energy for production activities and daily life.

The reactions were carried out at room temperature and pressure, and produced hydrogen and diesel fuel precursors constituted by isomeric oxygenates with a variety of carbon numbers typical of diesel fuel. Removal of the oxygen content from the diesel fuel precursors produced sustainable diesel fuels with components close to current petroleum diesel; hydrogen could be used to remove the oxygen from the diesel fuel precursors or be used alone.

“This process realizes the directional transformation of light energy and biomass to hydrogen energy and diesel fuels, and provides a way to produce clean energy using solar energy and sustainable carbon sources present on the earth’s surface,” said Wang.

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