Source: Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, 2011. Northwest researchers have developed a new catalyst material that could replace chemicals currently derived from petroleum and be the basis for more environmentally friendly products including octane-boosting gas and fuel additives, bio-based rubber for tires, and a safer solvent for the chemicals industry.
To make sustainable biofuels, producers want to ferment ethanol from nonfood plant matter such as cornstalks and weeds. Currently, so-called bio-ethanol’s main values are as a non-polluting replacement for octane-boosting fuel additives to prevent engine knocking and as a renewable replacement for a certain percentage of gasoline. To turn bio-ethanol into other useful products, researchers at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and at Washington State University have developed a new catalyst material that will convert it into a chemical called isobutene. And it can do so in one production step, which can reduce costs.
“Isobutene is a versatile chemical that could expand the applications for sustainably produced bio-ethanol,” said chemical engineer Yong Wang, who has a joint appointment at PNNL in Richland, WA, and at WSU in Pullman, WA, and leads research efforts at both institutions.
In addition, this catalyst requires the presence of water, allowing producers to use dilute and cheaper bio-ethanol rather than having to purify it first, potentially keeping costs lower and production times faster.