Light-Based Chemistry Could Increase Energy Density of a Renewable Fuel

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LOS ALAMOS, N.M., Jan. 27, 2020 — Researchers at Los Alamos National Laboratory used photochemical [2 + 2] cycloaddition to upgrade biomass-derived acetone — common nail polish remover — to higher-mass hydrocarbons, and produced a product that can be blended with conventional jet fuel for more energy-efficient flying.

Acetone plus light creates a green jet fuel additive, Los Alamos National Laboratory.
Starting with acetone derived from plants, scientists at Los Alamos are converting this simple molecule into jet fuel using a novel process that uses light. This has the potential to be blended with regular jet fuel to offer a greener option. Courtesy of Los Alamos National Laboratory.

“We converted bio-derived acetone to isophorone and then used a UV lamp to convert it to a cyclobutane, a type of hydrocarbon with high-energy density for fuels applications,” researcher Courtney Ford Ryan said. “This process allows us to transform a natural product into a fuel additive, improving the performance of petroleum-based jet fuel.”

Acetone’s volatility precludes its direct use as a fuel. Also, acetone requires chemical upgrading to be suitable for introduction into the fuel supply, as it is capable of dissolving engine parts and O-rings. By upgrading the initial product to a cyclobutane, the researchers were able to generate a potentially safer and more energy-dense fuel, while reducing the hydrogen input required for upgrading a bio-derived feedstock.

The research was published in Sustainable Energy & Fuels ( 

Published: January 2020
The study of chemical reactions stimulated by the properties of light.
Research & TechnologyDepartment of EnergyLos Alamos National LaboratoryAmericasLight SourcesMaterialsgreen energy sourcesaerospacephotochemistryenvironmentenergyindustrial

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