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Los Alamos team develops robust route to convert starch and sugar to C10 and C11 hydrocarbons; “potato-to-pump”

Researchers at Los Alamos National Laboratory have developed a route to convert oligosaccharides, such as starch, cellulose, and hemicelluloses to C10 and C11 hydrocarbons by using depolymerization followed by chain extension.

In a paper published in the journal ChemSusChem, they report on the robustness of the approach by performing a simple starch extraction from a Russet potato and subjecting it to their process. (They noted that the use of the potato was simply illustrative, and that the use of food crops for fuel production should be avoided.)

By developing routes to convert both xylose and glucose with the robustness to handle very crude biomass in the form of a potato, we are now well positioned to apply this to real hydrolysates derived from switchgrass or corn stover, wherein the main two constituents are xylose and glucose.

—Sutton et al.

The basic approach to converting biomass sugars (xylose and glucose) to drop-in hydrocarbon fuels is through chain extension steps and hydrodeoxygenation to remove the oxygen atoms abundant in biomass sugars. An overabundance of oxygen is detrimental to high energy density fuels because (a) they are over-oxidized from a combustion standpoint, and (b) they exhibit reactivity that is often difficult to predict and control.

Reducing the oxygen content helps to confer stability and, more importantly for fuels, in-creased energy density by reducing C–O bonds to C–H bonds, while at the same time, minimizing the yield of CO2 as a by-product. In contrast to thermochemical routes, a catalytic approach, using selective functional group transformations could facilitate lower energy routes to access hydrocarbons.

… To eliminate some processing steps, and to move towards “raw biomass” as the primary process input, rather than commodity chemicals produced from biomass (i.e., 5-HMF), we began to investigate the potential of using sugars directly.

—Sutton et al.

The Los Alamos team used an adaption of the Garcia–Gonzalez (GG) reaction, which converts glucose to furan rings. In a subsequent step, ring opening and hydrodeoxygenation produces the desired branched alkanes under relatively mild conditions.

Conversion of a Russet potato into G-GG and the conversion of G-GG to 3-ethyloctane and 7-ethyloctyl acetate using GG chemistry. Sutton et al. Click to enlarge.

The GG reaction typically uses Lewis acidic metal catalysts, such as CeCl3. The Los Alamos team developed routes that utilize a non-precious metal catalyst (NPMC) in the form of iron triflate [Fe(OTf)3].

This approach can be applied to monomeric sugars (glucose and xylose), oligosaccharides (starch), and potentially to hydrolyzed dedicated energy crops to allow the conversion of real biomass into fuel type molecules.

—Sutton et al.


  • Sutton, A. D., Kim, J. K., Wu, R., Hoyt, C. B., Kimball, D. B., Silks, L. A. and Gordon, J. C. (2016) “The Conversion of Starch and Sugars into Branched C10 and C11 Hydrocarbons.” ChemSusChem doi: 10.1002/cssc.201600669



Excellent idea. It could raise the current very low price of potatoes by 2X to 3X, as ethanol did to corn price and to cane sugar in the near future?


@Harvey - From the OP: "They noted that the use of the potato was simply illustrative, and that the use of food crops for fuel production should be avoided."

Don't let that keep you from posting, though.

The Lurking Jerk

.....besides, all that would happen is farmers would grow more potatoes, until the price is driven back down to near breakeven.


It sounds like good news.
To be able to turn starchy crops into gasoline would be a boon, once you found somewhere to grow them.
They could probably use GM cassava or sorghum to get the yields us.
You would still want to use hybridisation (perhaps plug in) to keep the consumption down to drive a serious number of cars.


At last, Ireland rules the world, and Ukraine gets independent from Russia. Unless Russia dumps vodka gasoline on the world first.


sadly, Ireland will not rule the world in potato production ...


or consumption...

[ Belarus seems to consume twice as much per capita as Ireland ]



Business/industries and higher profits will dictate the use of lowest cost feed stocks, as it did for sugar cane and corn today. Increased edible and non edible feed stocks consumption = more water and fertilizer usage = more GHG = more pollution = eventually higher food scarcity and higher prices.

Farmers will produce whatever sells best to satisfy the markets, regardless of the GHG and pollution created.

Bio-fuel may burn cleaner than fossil fuels but it not the proper solution, unless it is more GHG and pollution neutral when used in FCs?

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