Washington: Researchers have developed a new catalyst that could lead to inexpensive and more efficient biofuels.
Led by Professor Yong Wang from the Washington State University, the researchers mixed inexpensive iron with a tiny amount of rare palladium to make the catalyst.
One of the biggest challenges in biofuels production is grabbing carbon for fuel while also removing oxygen. High oxygen content makes biofuel less stable, gooier and less efficient than fossil fuels and not suitable for airplane or diesel fuels.
To improve production, researchers also want to use as little hydrogen as possible in the reaction.
The researchers developed a mixture of two metals, iron along with a tiny amount of palladium, to serve as a catalyst to efficiently and cheaply remove oxygen.
"The synergy between the palladium and the iron is incredible," said Wang, who holds a joint appointment with Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and WSU.
"When combined, the catalyst is far better than the metals alone in terms of activity, stability and selectivity," said Wang.
Iron catalysts have been an inexpensive way to remove oxygen from plant-based materials. But the catalyst can stop working when it interacts with water, which is a necessary part of biofuels production.
Palladium can work in water, but it is not terrific at removing oxygen; and the metal is very expensive.
The researchers found that adding extremely small amounts of palladium to iron helped cover the iron surface of the catalyst with hydrogen, which caused the reaction to speed up and work better. It also prevented water from interrupting the reactions. And less hydrogen was needed to remove the oxygen.
"With biofuels, you need to remove as much oxygen as possible to gain energy density," said Wang.
"Of course, in the process, you want to minimise the costs of oxygen removal. In this case, you minimise hydrogen consumption, increase the overall activity and gain high yields of the desired fuel products using much less expensive and more abundant catalyst materials," said Wang.
The research was published in the journal ACS Catalysis.