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Researchers convert sawdust into petrol

Researchers at KU Leuven's Centre for Surface Chemistry and Catalysis, in Belgium, have found a way to turn sawdust into building blocks for petrol.

Adopting a new chemical process, the scientists can convert the cellulose in sawdust into hydrocarbon chains. These hydrocarbons are then used as an additive in petrol. These findings were then reported in the Energy & Environmental Science journal.

Cellulose is the main substance in plant matter and is present in all non-edible plant parts of wood, straw, grass, cotton and old paper.

This demonstrates a new type of biorefining, and the researchers currently have a patent pending for it.

'We have also built a chemical reactor in our lab: we feed sawdust collected from a sawmill into the reactor and add a catalyst – a substance that sets off and speeds the chemical reaction. With the right temperature and pressure, it takes about half a day to convert the cellulose in the wood shavings into saturated hydrocarbon chains, or alkanes,' says Dr. Bert Lagrain.