From grass to grassoline

(28-03-2017) Researchers at Ghent University have developed a process that turns grass into fuel.

Scientists at the Centre for Microbial Ecology and Technology (CMET), Ghent University have developed a way to turn grass into biofuel. Will we soon drive on ‘grassoline’?

“Until now, grass has mainly served as feed for animals. We can get more out of grass: due to its vast abundance, it is an attractive source to produce organics such as aviation fuel”, scientist Way Cern Khor tells us. During his PhD research at Ghent University, Belgium, he investigated methods that disintegrate and bioconvert grass until it can be used as a fuel.

How does it work?

Grass is first pretreated to increase biodegradability. Then enriched bacteria are utilized to convert the sugars in the grass into lactic acid and its derivatives. The lactic acid can already serve as an intermediate chemical to produce other compounds such as biodegradable plastics (PLA) or fuels. In this case, the lactic acid is converted into caproic acid which was further converted into products such as decane.

And that is where the process ends: decane can be used as fuel, for example for aviation. This is very important: while cars are turning electric, planes are not – and they will not do so in the coming two decades at least.

Work in progress

The approach is revolutionary, time to list some challenges: today the amount of biofuel that can be made from grass in the laboratory is limited to a few drops. The results indicate that the overall conversion can be highly efficient, though.

“If we can keep working on optimizing this process, particularly in cooperation with industrial partners, the efficiency will come up and feasibility will follow. And maybe in a few years we can all fly on grass!”, Khor concludes.

More info

Way Cern Khor
+32 477 65 10 11
waycern.khor@ugent.be  

Prof. Korneel Rabaey
+32 468 11 84 76
korneel.rabaey@ugent.be