Existing technologies to produce liquid fuels from biomass are typically energy-intensive, multistep processes. Many of these processes use edible biomass as starting material. Carbohydrates, such as mono- and polysaccharides and cellulose, typically constitute 50–80 % of plant biomass. Herein, we report that hexose from a wide range of biomass-derived carbohydrates, cellulose, and even raw lignocellulose (e.g., corn stover) can be converted into 2,5-dimethyltetrahydrofuran (DMTHF) in one step, in good yields and under mild conditions in water. Under the same conditions, 2-methyltetrahydrofuran is formed from pentose. The reaction employs a soluble rhodium catalyst, dihydrogen, and HI/HCl+NaI. The catalytic system is robust and can be recycled repeatedly without loss of activity. DMTHF is superior to ethanol and has many of the desirable properties currently found in typical petroleum-derived transportation fuels.