New oxygen-removing catalyst developed for better biofuel production

The new catalyst addresses one of the challenges in biofuel production which is grabbing carbon for fuel while removing oxygen. Too much oxygen, which is naturally found in plant material used for biofuel, makes the resulting fuel less stable, gooier and less efficient than fossil fuels.

Researchers from Washington State University have developed a new catalyst that can remove oxygen from plant-based materials for a more efficient biofuel process.

The researchers mix inexpensive iron with a tiny amount of rare palladium to make their catalysts.

The new catalyst addresses one of the challenges in biofuel production which is grabbing carbon for fuel while removing oxygen. Too much oxygen, which is naturally found in plant material used for biofuel, makes the resulting fuel less stable, gooier and less efficient than fossil fuels.

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While iron had already been used as a catalyst to remove oxygen from plant material, these catalysts don’t work to well in biofuel production. This is because the iron catalysts rust and stop working when they interact with water. Biofuel production requires the use of water.

Palladium, on the other hand, can work with water but it isn’t very good at removing oxygen. Also, palladium can be very expensive.

What the researchers did was add a bit of palladium to iron to “water-proof” it. Adding palladium to iron covered the iron surface with hydrogen and prevented water from interrupting the oxygen removing reaction. It also caused the reaction to speed up and work better.

“With biofuels, you need to remove as much oxygen as possible to gain energy density,” said Professor Yong Wang who led the research team. “Of course, in the process, you want to minimize the costs of oxygen removal. In this case, you minimize hydrogen consumption, increase the overall activity and gain high yields of the desired fuel products using much less expensive and more abundant catalyst materials.”

“When combined, the catalyst is far better than the metals alone in terms of activity, stability and selectivity,” said Mr. Wang.

The researchers will be continuing their studies on the catalyst to see how it stands up under more realistic conditions that more closely mimic real biofuels production. – EcoSeed Staff

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