UW grad student recognized for biofuels advance

In recognition of the earth-friendly biofuel technology he helped develop, a UW-Madison graduate student has been selected to receive a prestigious national award from the American Chemical Society.

Joseph Binder, a PhD student in chemistry, is set to receive the Kenneth G. Hancock Memorial Award in Green Chemistry on June 22 at the Carnegie Institution in Washington, DC. Each year, this award is given to the graduate student whose work best advances the principles of green chemistry, the burgeoning chemistry subfield intent on developing environmentally benign chemical products and processes.

“Joe is incredible. He’s really the reason we’re doing (biofuels development) in my lab,” says Ron Raines, Binder’s academic advisor, a UW-Madison professor with appointments in the Department of Biochemistry and the Department of Chemistry. “I can project that he will be a leader in biofuels. He’s already a young leader in the field.”

With guidance from Raines, who became affiliated with the Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center at UW-Madison when it opened in 2007, Binder came up with a two-step chemical process to turn raw biomass into the promising biofuel 2,5-dimethylfuran, or DMF. To make it work, Binder developed a unique solvent system with an extraordinary capacity to dissolve cellulose. The solvent system is considered green because it’s a non-hazardous alternative to existing solvents. It’s also less expensive, meaning the technology could be widely adopted should the nation’s energy leaders opt to go that route.

After graduating with his doctoral degree later this month, Binder will join the Energy Biosciences Institute at the University of California, Berkeley, where he will spearhead chemical approaches to develop biofuels.

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