A domestically generated additive was made by taking biomass-derived acetone — common nail polish remover — and using light to upgrade it to higher-mass hydrocarbons. It can be blended with conventional jet fuel to fly while providing environmental benefits.
The process allows researchers to transform a natural product into a fuel additive, improving the performance of petroleum-based jet fuel. Bio-derived acetone was converted to isophorone and then a UV lamp was used to convert it to a cyclobutene — a type of hydrocarbon with high energy density for fuel applications.
There are many challenges in using acetone for fuel applications. Its volatility precludes its direct use as a fuel and it requires chemical upgrading to be suitable for introduction into the fuel supply, as acetone dissolves engine parts and Orings. By upgrading the initial product to a cyclobutane, a potentially safer and more energy-dense fuel is created while reducing the hydrogen input required for upgrading a bio-derived feedstock.
Reducing high-pressure hydrogen treatment in synthesizing renewable fuels is important, because most hydrogen is derived from using steam to reform natural gas, which generates carbon dioxide. More work is needed to make a catalyst that could do it using sunlight.