Nationally recognized “green gasoline” researcher George Huber, the John and Elizabeth Armstrong Professional Development Professor from the Chemical Engineering Department at UMass Amherst, was featured in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s prestigious magazine, Technology Review, on March 29, when writer Katherin Bourzac focused on Huber’s startup company, Anellotech. Last August, UMass Amherst granted the New York City based Anellotech exclusive global rights to the university’s catalytic fast pyrolysis technology, developed by Huber for producing clean, green “grassoline.”
His patent-pending technique offers a low-cost, single-step process for turning sawdust, woody stalks, and other waste biomass into gasoline, diesel fuel, heating oil, and valuable chemical commodities such as benzene, toluene, and xylenes. Huber is also chair of Anellotech’s scientific advisory board.
For UMass Amherst, Nick DeCristofaro, director of the university’s Office of Commercial Ventures, Intellectual Property, and Technology Transfer, said, “Huber’s new technique has been the most sought-after technology the campus has licensed to date. We’ve noted unprecedented interest from a number of quarters.”
Outside of his laboratory, Huber has been a busy and articulate advocate for biofuels, campaigning in print, in the electronic media, and in Congress for such renewable fuels as the foundation for a new energy economy.
Last summer, Huber co-authored the cover story for the July Scientific American. His cover story in the Scientific American predicted that if the United States maintains its commitment to biofuels over the next 15 years, the number of vehicles powered by “grassoline” ― gasoline and diesel fuel made from plants ― could “fundamentally change the world.” The article was entitled, “Grassoline at the Pump.”
Grassoline can be made from wood residues such as sawdust and construction debris; from agricultural residues such as cornstalks and wheat straw; or from fast-growing “energy crops” such as grasses and woody materials produced specifically to serve as feedstocks for grassoline.
“By now it ought to be clear that the U.S. must get off oil,” Huber explained in his Scientific American article. “We can no longer afford the dangers that our dependence on petroleum poses for our national security, our economic security, or our environmental security. Yet civilization is not about to stop moving, and so we must invent a new way to power the world’s transportation fleet. Cellulosic biofuel — liquid fuels made from inedible parts of plants — offer the most environmentally attractive and technologically feasible near-term alternative to oil.”
On June 18, Huber did a Congressional briefing about “the road to the new energy economy.” Huber’s Congressional briefing was sponsored by Discover magazine, the National Science Foundation, the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers. Discover recruited Huber for the briefing as its "expert researcher" for its first event on biofuels.
This fall, Huber appeared on a program called Breakout on the Forbes Video Network. “There might be a new way to make gasoline greener,” the program began. “A scientist at the University of Massachusetts Amherst thinks he’s found the answer. His new process uses waste products and minimal energy and water.”
Breakout is a weekly video series, carried on Forbes.com, which is produced for the Entrepreneurs channel and showcases budding entrepreneurs, inventors, and business thinkers.
Later in the fall, Huber was the star of a five-minute video, Green Gasoline, which was produced by Jon Baime of the National Science Foundation’s Science Nation, the “online magazine that’s all about science for the people.” As Huber commented in the video, "The beauty of green gasoline is you don't need to change the existing infrastructure. We're going to make the same gasoline from biomass that you make from petroleum oil, gasoline, diesel fuel, home heating oil, jet fuel, and chemicals. So anything you can make from crude oil, we believe, in the next 10 to 20 years, you'll be making from biomass."
In addition to all his feverish activities in recent months, Huber produced a 2008 publication that served as a 187-page roadmap for making hydrocarbon biofuel into a viable and sustainable alternative to fossil fuel in this country. The publication combined the expertise of some 70 top scientists and engineers in the field of biofuels and was entitled, “Breaking the Chemical and Engineering Barriers to Lignocellulosic Biofuels: Next Generation Hydrocarbon Biorefineries.”
As the roadmap publication states: “A concerted effort to accelerate the development of domestically produced alternative transportation fuels promises to reduce our national dependence on foreign oil, spur economic development, and improve environmental quality in the United States.”
The biofuels roadmap was sponsored by the National Science Foundation, the American Chemical Society, and the Department of Energy. Dr. Huber produced the publication at UMass Amherst as a follow-up to a high-level workshop he chaired in Washington, D.C.
Among the varied funding sources supporting Huber’s well-publicized research is a $400,000 CAREER grant from the National Science Foundation to pursue his revolutionary new method for making “green gasoline” from wood or grasses, and a $1.9 million grant from the Department of Defense for turning wood and corn waste products into fuel precursors.