Subscribe

New biofuels recipe: iron with a pinch of palladium

Scientists have combined iron and palladium to form a new catalyst for converting biomass into fuels fit for today's gas tanks. It's part of an effort to make biofuels more energy dense, and therefore more competitive with fossil fuels. 

  • close
    In this undated photo provided by NASA, a NASA DC-8 airplane releases contrails over California in a mission to determine the effect a biofuel blend made with camelina plant oil has on the aircraft’s emissions and engine performance. A new catalyst aims to make biofuels more energy dense.
    NASA/AP/File
    View Caption
  • About video ads
    View Caption
of

Biofuels are renewable and clean alternatives to fossil fuels, but they can be difficult to produce because their source, biomass, contains a fair amount of oxygen. That makes them less stable, too viscous and less efficient than the fuels they’re meant to replace.

Using iron as a catalyst to remove the oxygen is inexpensive, but the water in organic biomass can rust the iron, canceling its effectiveness. Another metal, palladium, is rust resistant, but it’s not as efficient as iron in removing the oxygen, and it’s far more expensive than plentiful iron.

So researchers at Washington State University (WSU) and the U.S. Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) decided to combine the two. (Related: New Cellulosic Ethanol Plant Commercializes Renewable Fuel)

Evoking images of Julia Child in a lab coat and goggles, they added just a pinch of palladium to iron, a recipe that efficiently removes oxygen from biomass without the rust. A meal fit for a gourmet, as it were, at the cost of a cheeseburger.

The paper on their work was chosen as the cover story in the October issue of the scientific journal ACS Catalysis. In it, the researchers said they discovered that combining iron with very small amounts of palladium helped to cover the catalyst’s surface with hydrogen, which accelerates the process of turning biomass into biofuel.

“With biofuels, you need to remove as much oxygen as possible to gain energy density,” Yong Wang, who led the research, told the WSU news department. “Of course, in the process, you want to minimize the costs of oxygen removal.”

Kitchen metaphors aside, Wang’s team didn’t limit themselves to skillets, knives and can openers, but relied instead on high-resolution transmission electron microscopy, X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy and extended X-ray absorption fine structure spectroscopy. In other words, very sophisticated gear.

Like this article?

Subscribe to Recharge, the Monitor's weekend digest of global energy news.
Click here for a sample.

These tools led them to understand how the atoms on the surface of the two different catalysts – one made solely of iron, the other made solely of palladium – react with the biomass lignin, the woody material found in most plants. Wang said this led to the idea of combining the two metals. (Related: U.S. Firm Angers Dubliners With Plan For Waste-to-Energy Generator)

“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.”

The goal of the research is to create what are known as “drop-in biofuels” – direct substitutes for gasoline, diesel fuel and jet fuel that can be used interchangeably with fossil fuels in today’s vehicles. So far, that effort has failed because today’s biofuels have too much oxygen and are thus less efficient than fossil fuels and can even damage systems built for fossil fuels.

To date, Wang’s team has converted biomass into biofuel only in a laboratory. Now, he said, he’d like to expand his work and move it to an environment that’s more like a biofuel production plant.

By Andy Tully of Oilprice.com

More Top Reads From Oilprice.com:

Source: http://oilprice.com/Latest-Energy-News/World-News/New-Catalyst-Could-Mean-Cheaper-Biofuels-Production.html

The Christian Science Monitor has assembled a diverse group of the best energy bloggers out there. Our guest bloggers are not employed or directed by the Monitor and the views expressed are the bloggers' own, as is responsibility for the content of their blogs. To contact us about a blogger, click here. To add or view a comment on a guest blog, please go to the blogger's own site by clicking on the link in the blog description box above.

About these ads
Sponsored Content by LockerDome
 
 
Make a Difference
Inspired? Here are some ways to make a difference on this issue.
FREE Newsletters
Get the Monitor stories you care about delivered to your inbox.
 

We want to hear, did we miss an angle we should have covered? Should we come back to this topic? Or just give us a rating for this story. We want to hear from you.

Loading...

Loading...

Loading...

Save for later

Save
Cancel

Saved ( of items)

This item has been saved to read later from any device.
Access saved items through your user name at the top of the page.

View Saved Items

OK

Failed to save

You reached the limit of 20 saved items.
Please visit following link to manage you saved items.

View Saved Items

OK

Failed to save

You have already saved this item.

View Saved Items

OK