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We propose that γ-valerolactone (GVL), a naturally occurring chemical in fruits and a frequently used food additive, exhibits the most important characteristics of an ideal sustainable liquid, which could be used for the production of both energy and carbon-based consumer products. GVL is renewable, easy and safe to store and move globally in large quantities, has low melting (−31 °C), high boiling (207 °C) and open cup flash (96 °C) points, a definitive but acceptable smell for easy recognition of leaks and spills, and is miscible with water, assisting biodegradation. We have established that its vapor pressure is remarkably low, even at higher temperatures (3.5 kPa at 80 °C). We have also shown by using 18O-labeled water that GVL does not hydrolyze to gamma-hydroxypentanoic acid under neutral conditions. In contrast, after the addition of acid (HCl) the incorporation of one or two 18O-isotopes to GVL was observed, as expected. GVL does not form a measurable amount of peroxides in a glass flask under air in weeks, making it a safe material for large scale use. Comparative evaluation of GVL and ethanol as fuel additives, performed on a mixture of 10 v/v% GVL or EtOH and 90 v/v% 95-octane gasoline, shows very similar properties. Since GVL does not form an azeotrope with water, the latter can be readily removed by distillation, resulting in a less energy demanding process for the production of GVL than that of absolute ethanol. Finally, it is also important to recognize that the use of a single chemical entity, such as GVL, as a sustainable liquid instead of a mixture of compounds, could significantly simplify its worldwide monitoring and regulation.
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