London: A team of researchers from two European universities have discovered a new approach to the production of much cleaner diesel.
Researchers from Belgium's University of KU Leuven and Netherland's Utrecht University used catalysts to produce clean diesel, which can quickly be scaled up for industrial use, according to a KU Leuven statement.
Catalysts are substances that trigger the chemical reactions that convert raw material into fuel. In the case of diesel, small catalyst granules are added to the raw material to sufficiently change the molecules of the raw material to produce useable fuel.
The catalyst used for this particular study has two functions, represented by two different material -- a metal (platinum) and a solid-state acid.
During the production process for diesel, the molecules bounce to and fro between the metal and the acid. Each time a molecule comes into contact with one of the materials, it changes a little bit. At the end of the process, the molecules are ready to be used for diesel fuel.
The assumption has always been that the metal and the solid-state acid in the catalyst should be as close together as possible to speed up the production process by helping the molecules bounce to and fro more quickly.
However, Johan Martens of KU Leuven and Krijn de Jong of Utrecht University have now discovered that this assumption is incorrect.
"Our results are the exact opposite of what we had expected. At first, we thought that the samples had been switched or that something was wrong with our analysis", said professor Martens.
"We repeated the experiments three times, only to arrive at the same conclusion -- the current theory is wrong. There has to be a minimum distance between the functions within a catalyst. This goes against what the industry has been doing for the past 50 years."
Cars that are driven by this clean diesel would emit far fewer particulates and carbon dioxide. The researchers believe that their method can be scaled up for industrial use with relative ease, so the new diesel could be used in cars in 5-10 years.
The new technique can be applied to petroleum-based fuels but also to renewable carbon from biomass.