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The novelty of the process consists in turning the carbon contained in plants, and which would normally escape in the form of CO2, into useable fuel by forcing the carbon dioxide to react with hydrogen.

Traditional biofuel production loses two thirds of the plant material used as it turns into carbon dioxide and is released into the atmosphere.

The new method, still being developed by scientists at Purdue University in the US, could make it possible to run the United States’ entire transport network on biofuels, as well as reducing the climate impact of the fuels.

Currently the US has 1.366 bn tonnes of biomass available – an amount that could supply around 30% of the country’s transport needs using current biofuel production methods, according to a recent US Department of Energy study.

The new production method would bring this up to 100%, countering concerns over the development of biofuels pushing up corn prices and threatening food supplies.

The major challenge before the process can be rendered carbon-neutral lies in the production of hydrogen, however, said Rakesh Agrawal who is developing the technology with his colleagues at Purdue University, Indiana.

Hydrogen production requires energy, and only when it can be produced using renewable sources like solar and wind can the biofuel production process be rendered carbon-neutral.

The research results were recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal.

For more information on the research see Purdue University’s Chemical Engineering homepage.

Goska Romanowicz

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