A KU faculty member is going back to the farm in search of a fuel for the next century.
Galen Suppes is driven to save diesel vehicle owners some money.
Suppes, assistant professor of chemical and petroleum engineering at Kansas University, is developing a recipe to convert common agriculture resources -- grass, corn stalks, surplus grain -- into sugar for use as the primary component in fuel for diesel engines.
"It's not a question of if sugar will work," he said. "It's only a question of when these fuels will be less expensive than diesel fuels."
KU researchers have made these fuels run in conventional diesel engines. Tests have been successful enough that a provisional patent application was filed with the U.S. Patent Office on the fuel mixtures. A final patent application is expected to be filed in 1997.
Here's the hot recipe: 15 percent water, 20-30 percent methanol or ethanol, 50-70 percent syrup (water and sugar mix).
Suppes said KU's sugar-fuel costs considerably less than ethanol or methanol made from biomass and should cost less than diesel.
"We know the technology is there to convert many forms of biomass to sugars," Suppes said. "In fact, we are developing technology to give these fuels exceptional fuel quality.
"The problem is one of perception -- of using sugar as the primary component of a fuel recipe."
Suppes said it wasn't normally possible to use sugar in a gasoline engine with injectors and carburetors that rely on fuel evaporating. Sugars don't evaporate, he said.
However, diesel engines are different. The fuel is sprayed into the cylinder of a diesel engine at a very high temperature, where it evaporates, burns and ignites before it can solidify.
"Placing sugar directly into diesel fuel would also foul up the system," Suppes said. "But put sugar in a soluble mixture and you have a viable alternative fuel."
Research funding came from Kansas Soybean Commission, KU Energy Research Center and Kansas Value Added Center.
Ford, Chrysler and General Motors formed a partnership with the federal government to search for ways of replacing gas engines with diesel engines by 2010.
"Economically competitive fuels and fuel additives could provide a large source of revenue and new jobs in Kansas," Suppes said.