Acetone is a common organic solvent. It is used to make plastic, fibers, drugs, and other chemicals. It is commonly used by consumers as nail polish remover. Acetone is a manufactured chemical, but it is also found naturally in the environment in plants, among other places. There are now companies that produce acetone entirely by fermentation of plant feedstocks, such as corn.
Researchers at Los Alamos National Laboratory have now developed a process by which acetone can be converted into a fuel additive that can improve the performance of petroleum-based jet fuel, providing both environmental and economic benefits.
The process takes biomass-derived acetone and converts it to isophorone, which they produce by a process called photochemical cycloaddition that creates more complex hydrocarbons. They then use ultraviolet light to convert the isophorone into cyclobutane, which is a type of hydrocarbon with high energy density that is suitable for aviation fuel applications.
Acetone itself is quite volatile and is unsuitable for fuel applications. It also cannot be added directly to any fuel supply since it can dissolve engine parts and o-rings. Cyclobutane, on the other hand, is a safer and more energy-dense fuel that can be a replacement for additives that require high-pressure hydrogen treatment in their synthesis. Currently, most hydrogen is produced by a process that generates carbon dioxide. The new conversion process does not result in carbon emissions.
According to the Los Alamos researchers, their process can result in a domestically generated product that will provide environmental benefits, create domestic jobs, improve U.S. energy security, and further U.S. global leadership in bioenergy technologies.
Photo, posted December 18, 2007, courtesy of Flickr.