Scientists and entrepreneurs of old spent millennia trying to transmute lead into gold. Today, a new and more intellectually rigorous kind of alchemy has begun to produce important benefits for an economy that still relies heavily on fossil fuels.
For the past four years, Argonne chemist Chris Marshall and his colleagues at the Argonne-led Institute for Atom-Efficient Chemical Transformations (IACT) have been searching for ways to improve the efficiency and selectivity of catalysts – precisely tailored chemicals that help to carry out a vast array of reactions.
IACT was originally founded by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) in 2009 as a special Energy Frontier Research Center (EFRC), in which scientists from both academic institutions and government labs were asked to team up to discover better ways of converting biomass – plant sugars from corn or sugarcane – into combustible diesel fuel, jet fuel or gasoline.
In order to successfully convert biomass into fuel, Marshall and his colleagues have developed a roadmap of chemical reactions. Each of these reactions requires either a different catalytic material or a different set of reaction conditions to work effectively.
“The problem with biomass is that it’s loaded with oxygen, while the fuels we’re trying to create are much more oxygen-poor and hydrogen-rich,” Marshall said. “Hydrogen is an expensive commodity; if we’re going to use it, we need to use it judiciously.”
Read more at: Phys.org