AMHERST, Mass. - Nationally recognized "green gasoline" researcher George Huber, a chemical engineer at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, has been selected for a Camille Dreyfus Teacher-Scholar Award, which includes an unrestricted research grant of $75,000. Huber, who is the Armstrong Associate Professor of Chemical Engineering, is one of the country’s leading experts in the area of catalytic pyrolysis, a process used to produce green gasoline and petrochemicals from domestically available renewable biomass.
Huber is the third faculty member in the chemical engineering department to win this highly selective national award in the chemical sciences. The others are Dimitri Maroudas in 1999 and Jeffrey Davis in 2007.
Huber’s research is supported by an array of grants, including 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 $2 million grant from the National Science Foundation’s Emerging Frontiers in Science and Innovation program. He has also received $5 million in grants from the Department of Defense for turning wood and corn waste products into liquid transportation fuels, and $500,000 as part of the Department of Energy’s Energy Frontiers Research Center.
The Camille Dreyfus Teacher-Scholar Awards Program supports the research and teaching careers of talented young faculty in the chemical sciences. Nominations must provide compelling evidence of advances by nominees in important knowledge in the chemical sciences. Further, the nomination should describe dedication and contributions to education in the chemical sciences, particularly with respect to undergraduates.
Huber published a groundbreaking article in the Nov. 26, 2010 issue of the journal Science, which reported his team’s new method for producing high-volume chemical feedstocks, including benzene, toluene, xylenes and olefins, from pyrolytic bio-oils or biocrude, the cheapest liquid fuels available today derived from biomass. Huber’s new process could reduce or eliminate industry’s reliance on fossil fuels to make industrial chemicals worth an estimated $400 billion annually. Instead of buying petroleum by the barrel, chemical manufacturers would be able to use relatively cheaper, widely available pyrolysis oils made from waste wood, agricultural waste, and non-food energy crops to produce the same high-value materials for making everything from solvents and detergents to plastics and fibers.
The technology created in Huber’s laboratory is moving quickly towards commercialization. In August 2009, UMass Amherst granted the New York City-based Anellotech (www.anellotech.com) company exclusive global rights to the university’s catalytic fast pyrolysis technology, developed by Huber for producing clean 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. This technology can be used to make subsidy free renewable petrochemicals that compete with $60-per-barrel oil. Huber is chair of Anellotech’s scientific advisory board.
Huber also co-authored the July 2009 cover story in Scientific American, titled "Grassoline at the Pump," in which he wrote that "Cellulosic biofuels - liquid fuels made from inedible parts of plants - offer the most environmentally attractive and technologically feasible near-term alternative to oil." He predicted that if the United States maintains its commitment to biofuels over the next 15 years, the number of vehicles powered by grassoline could "fundamentally change the world."