Biofuels offer the promise of reducing our dependence on fossil fuels. The most widely used biofuel is ethanol made by the biological fermentation of corn. This process is not as green as many would like to believe because a substantial amount of energy (in the form of fossil fuel) is used in the production process. So ,the net gain is not great. Also, ethanol itself is not a terribly good fuel as it is very volatile, is not very energy dense and absorbs water.
A better biofuel would be one that does not rely on an important food crop, has a higher energy density and can be produced with as little energy input as possible. In todays issue of Nature, Román-Leshkov et al present a letter in which they report on a process by which the are able to produce 2,5-dimethylfuran (DMF) from the sugar fructose.
DMF is a better fuel than ethanol and interest in it is not new. What is new in this report is the ability to produce DMF in an industrial process requiring much less energy than previously reported methods.
The environmental impacts of this material have not been well studied and the source of fructose for the production of DMF remains an important issue but this type of innovative thinking has a place in our efforts to move away from dependence on fossil fuels.
Roman-Leshkov, Y., C. J. Barrett, Z. Y. Liu, and J. A. Dumesic. 2007. Production of dimethylfuran for liquid fuels from biomass-derived carbohydrates. Nature 447:982-985.