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A new catalyst for ethanol made from biomass
Date:8/1/2011

RICHLAND, Wash. -- Researchers in the Pacific Northwest 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 Department of Energy's 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.

Reported by researchers in the Institute for Integrated Catalysis at PNNL and in the Gene and Linda Voiland School of Chemical Engineering and Bioengineering at WSU, the findings appeared July 21 in the Journal of the American Chemical Society.

"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, Wash. and at WSU in Pullman, Wash., 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.

No Z-Z-Z for the Weary

An important key to unlocking renewables to replace fossil fuel products is the catalyst. A catalyst is a substance that promotes chemical reactions of interest. The c
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Contact: Mary Beckman
mary.beckman@pnnl.gov
509-375-3688
DOE/Pacific Northwest National Laboratory
Source:Eurekalert  

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