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Berkeley Lab scientists convert waste to biofuel precursors

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Researchers at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory – Berkeley Lab – have successfully created six blends by combining municipal solid waste (MSW) with biomass.

MSW is rubbish that is produced every day around the world in significant volumes. Using an ionic liquid-based process, the scientists have converted the blends into methyl ketones, which are chemical compounds that can be used as diesel fuel precursors.

The study, which was published in the journal ChemSusChem, is reportedly the first to prove the conversion of MSW to methyl ketones using an ionic liquid process, an efficient biomass pretreatment process.

The research was part of a collaboration between the Joint BioEnergy Institute and the Advanced Biofuels and Bioproducts Process Development Unit, both of which were established by the US Department of Energy and based at Berkeley Lab.

The scientists have scaled up one of the six blends 30-fold and are now attempting to scale up the process ever further.

“The ionic liquid-based conversion represents an efficient and more environmentally friendly process for biomass upgrading,” said Berkeley Lab researcher Ning Sun, corresponding author of the study. “This opens the door to building biorefinery facilities that use diversified feedstocks to produce a range of chemicals.”