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US molecule to unlock advanced biofuel reactor designs

“Mini cellulose” molecule will give first-time study into chemical processes to advance biofuels

The molecule will allow studies of chemical reactions of wood in biofuels
The mini molecule will allow researchers to study the chemical reactions of wood in biofuel production

US scientists have discovered a so-called “mini cellulose” molecule expected to improve efficiency in biofuel production. The molecule, known as α-cyclodextrin, behaves in the same way as plant molecule cellulose when it is converted to biofuel. This will enable researchers for the first time to study the complex chemical reactions, which take place in wood and prairie grasses during high-temperature conversion to biofuel in pyrolysis or gasification processes.

The research has taken place at the University of Massachusetts. Paul Dauenhauer, research team leader, said when researchers study the reactions, the results can be used to design advanced biofuel reactors. By creating reaction models of wood conversion, researchers can design biomass reactors to optimise the specific reactions that are ideal for production of biofuels.

According to Dauenhauer, the "mini-cellulose" molecule solves one of the major roadblocks confronting advances high-temperature biofuels production.

Currently, no computer modelling can track the chemical process that take place in biofuel production, as the molecules in wood are too large and the reactions far too complicated. However, computers can track the mini-molecule, which behaves in exactly the same way.