Above right: George W. Huber, Armstrong Professor of Chemical Engineering at UMass Amherst

Photo of Robert C. Holub

“There’s nowhere better in the country to engage in the life of the mind, and no location better suited to engage with scholars and students committed to making the world a better place now and in the future.”

Robert C. Holub, Ph.D., Chancellor, UMass Amherst

Green Gasoline

George W. Huber, Armstrong Professor of Chemical Engineering at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, is working on a solution to one of the most urgent issues facing the world today: how to end our dependence on petroleum oil. Huber’s solution is to convert low-cost, domestically available biomass resources, including sawdust, agricultural waste, and energy crops, into environmentally friendly liquid biofuel.

Biomass comes from plants—trees, grass, forest products—or just about anything that grows. Three types of biomass feedstocks have attracted significant interest of scientists: starches and sugarcane (such as corn-derived ethanol), vegetable oils, and cellulosic biomass. Cellulosic biomass is the non-edible portion of biomass and is the cheapest and most abundant form of biomass. Currently, however, cellulosic biomass is not used as a feedstock to make liquid biofuels because the current conversion technologies are too expensive.

A specialist in catalysis, Huber is developing more efficient and cheaper biomass conversion technologies. Previously developed cellulosic biofuel production processes rely on reactors that can be several stories high and take five to ten days to complete. Huber’s innovations would turn biomass into green gasoline in under a minute in facilities that are much smaller and are one-half to one-third cheaper than competing technologies. The only water needed for Huber’s biomass conversion processes is the amount used to grow the crops.

Since he arrived at UMass in 2006, Huber has been awarded more than $7 million in federal grants, and a Career Award from the National Science Foundation in 2007, the highest award the NSF bestows upon young faculty members. Huber is also co-founder of the start-up Anellotech, which has licensed technology from the University and is in the process of seeking federal and private funding for commercial development.

Faculty scholarship and research are at the heart of a world-class university. At the University of Massachusetts, the excellence and impact of faculty research have distinguished UMass globally, and research capacity continues to grow each year. UMass is a powerful research engine, with $435 million in research activities supported by sources that include the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, corporate partners, and other federal, state, and private sources. This level of funded investigation ranks UMass in the top 25 public research universities in the U.S.

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