Science News

A New Catalyst Fuels Optimism For Energy Supplies

Sun, 23rd Apr 2006

Part of the show Coral Reefs and Creatures of the Deep Sea

US researchers at Rutgers University in New Jersey have come up with a catalyst combo that might help to safeguard fuel supplies into the future. Alan Goldman and his colleagues have found a way to stitch together short hydrocarbon molecules, which come from coal, biomass, or refinery waste products, to make longer chains that are perfect for diesel fuel. To achieve this feat, which is known as alkane metathesis, the team have developed a pair of catalysts which work in tandem. The first knocks the hydrogens off one end of the short molecules, making them much more reactive, and the second then sticks the two pieces together to yield a longer-chain result. In some cases molecules of between 10 and 18 carbon atoms were produced, ideal for diesel. At the moment the catalysts are still under development and too inefficient to be used commercially, partly because they are too unstable and break down under the high temperatures (175 degrees C) inside the reaction vessel. But with oil prices hitting the roof, supplies dwindling and more cars than ever hitting the roads, a system that can turn plant waste into diesel, which this ultimately can, could rescue the petro-chemical industry from an uncertain future.


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