by Staff Writers
Munich, Germany (SPX) Jul 03, 2017
Fuel from waste? It is possible. But hitherto, converting organic waste to fuel has not been economically viable. Excessively high temperatures and too much energy are required. Using a novel catalyst concept, researchers at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) have now managed to significantly reduce the temperature and energy requirements of a key step in the chemical process. The trick: The reaction takes place in very confined spaces inside zeolite crystals.
Ever more electricity is produced decentrally using wind, hydro and solar power plants. "It thus makes sense to decentralize chemical production, as well," thinks Prof. Johannes Lercher, who heads the Chair of Technical Chemistry II at TU Munich. "Theoretically, any municipality could produce its own fuel or fertilizer."
To date, this has not been possible because chemical processes require a great deal of energy - more than local renewable energy sources can provide. "We thus aimed at findinding new processes to lay the foundations for the distributed production of chemicals, which can be powered using renewable energy sources," explains the chemist, who is also Director of the American Institute for Integrated Catalysis at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.
His team has now fulfilled one prerequisite for a turnaround in chemical production: In the laboratory, the scientists demonstrated that the temperature required for splitting carbon-oxygen bonds in acidic aqueous solution can be drastically reduced using zeolite crystals. The process also ran much faster than without the zeolite catalysts.
Nature as a model
"We thought about how we could apply theses biological functions to organic chemistry," explains Lercher. "While searching for suitable catalysts that accelerate the reaction, we stumbled upon zeolites - crystals with small cavities in which the reactions take place under cramped conditions comparable to those in enzyme pockets."
Cornered hydronium ions
"Our experiments demonstrate that zeolites as catalysts are similarly effective as enzymes: Both significantly reduce the energy levels required by the reactions," reports Lercher. "The smaller the cavity, the larger the catalytic effect. We achieved the best results with diameters far below one nanometer."
Geckos, wax and zeolites
Thus, the hydronium ions within the cavities have a significantly greater likelihood of bumping into a reaction partner than those outside. The result is an acid catalyzed chemical reaction that takes place faster and with lower energy input.
From garbage to fuel
It will take some time, of course, before the new process can be deployed in the field. "We are still working on the fundamentals," emphasizes Lercher. "We hope to use these to create the conditions required for new, decentral chemical production processes that no longer require large-scale facilities."
Chicago IL (SPX) Jun 28, 2017
Farmers earn more profits when there is demand for corn for biofuel instead of for food only. This can lead some to convert grasslands and forests to cropland. This conversion, also called indirect land use change, can have large-scale environmental consequences, including releasing stored carbon into the atmosphere. To penalize the carbon emissions from this so-called indirect land use ch ... read more
Technical University of Munich
Bio Fuel Technology and Application News
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