Diminishing fossil fuel reserves and growing concerns about global warming indicate that sustainable sources of energy are needed in the near future. For fuels to be useful in the transportation sector, they must have specific physical properties that allow for efficient distribution, storage and combustion; these properties are currently fulfilled by non-renewable petroleum-derived liquid fuels. Ethanol, the only renewable liquid fuel currently produced in large quantities, suffers from several limitations, including low energy density, high volatility, and contamination by the absorption of water from the atmosphere. Here we present a catalytic strategy for the production of 2,5-dimethylfuran from fructose (a carbohydrate obtained directly from biomass or by the isomerization of glucose) for use as a liquid transportation fuel. Compared to ethanol, 2,5-dimethylfuran has a higher energy density (by 40 per cent), a higher boiling point (by 20K), and is not soluble in water. This catalytic strategy creates a route for transforming abundant renewable biomass resources into a liquid fuel suitable for the transportation sector, and may diminish our reliance on petroleum.