University of Wisconsin-Madison College of Engineering researchers have discovered a new way to make a diesel-like liquid fuel from carbohydrates commonly found in plants.

Steenbock Professor James Dumesic and colleagues have developed a four-phase catalytic reactor in which corn and other biomass-derived carbohydrates can be converted to sulphur-free liquid alkanes resulting in an ideal additive for diesel transportation fuel.

"It's a very efficient process," says Huber. "The fuel produced contains 90% of the energy found in the carbohydrate and hydrogen feed. If you look at a carbohydrate source such as corn, our new process has the potential to create twice the energy as is created when corn is used to make ethanol."

About 67% of the energy required to make ethanol is consumed in fermenting and distilling corn. As a result, ethanol production creates 1.1 units of energy for every unit of energy consumed. In the UW-Madison process, the desired alkanes spontaneously separate from water. No additional heating or distillation is required. The result is the creation of 2.2 units of energy for every unit of energy consumed in energy production.

Because the UW-Madison process works with a range of carbohydrates, a wide range of plants, and more parts of the plant, can be consumed to make fuel.