Anyone who's overheated vegetable oil or sweet syrup knows that neither oil nor sugar evaporates--oil smokes and turns brown, sugar turns black, and both leave a nasty film of carbon on the cookware.
Now, a University of Minnesota team has invented a "reactive flash volatilization process" that heats oil and sugar about a million times faster than you can in your kitchen and produces hydrogen and carbon monoxide, a mixture called synthesis gas, or syngas, because it is used to make chemicals and fuels, including gasoline. The new process works 10 to 100 times faster than current technology, with no input of fossil fuels and in reactors at least 10 times smaller than current models. The work could significantly improve the efficiency of fuel production from renewable energy sources. It will be published Nov. 3 in Science.