Berkeley researchers go old school to make modern biofuel

Dr. Chaim Weizmann, Israel's first president, discovered the fermentation process in 1914.
Photo: Weizmann Institute

Dr. Chaim Weizmann, Israel's first president, discovered the fermentation process in 1914.

Scientists at the University of California, Berkeley, resurrected a century old fermentation process and used it to make diesel fuel from sugar.

Chaim Weizmann, the first president of Israel, discovered the process, a method of bacterial fermentation that was originally used to change starch into explosives, nearly 100 years ago. Now Cal chemists, working with others from the Energy Biosciences Institute, used this method to make diesel fuel. They think the process — still more expensive than current fossil fuels — could be commercialized in five to 10 years.

Though it would cost more, use of the new fuel would "drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions from transportation," UC Berkeley said.

Dean Toste, a chemistry professor at Cal, said the process can make "all sorts of renewable things, from fuels to commodity chemicals like plastics."

The Energy Biosciences Institute, housed in UC Berkeley's new Helios Building, is a collaboration between Cal, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign. EBI is paid for by money from oil giant BP plc (NYSE: BP), whose support caused some controversy on campus when it was first announced.

Read more in the San Francisco Business Times.

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