A new material that sorts hydrocarbon molecules by shape could lower the cost of gasoline and also make the fuel safer by reducing the need for certain additives that have been linked to cancer, according to a paper in the next issue of the journal Science.

Refiners typically use a material that can sort molecules by size during a key step in the refining process. To achieve a desired octane rating, this step has to be supplemented with energy-intensive distillation steps, or by the use of additives. The new material, which sorts molecules by shape rather than by size, can better differentiate between different types of hydrocarbon molecules, eliminating the distillation steps and the need for octane-enhancing additives.
“You could get high-performance gasoline at a cheaper price, potentially, and also more environmentally friendly gasoline,” says Jeffrey Long, the professor chemistry at the University of California at Berkeley who led the work (see “Gasoline Fuel Cell Would Boost Electric Car Range”).