Lin, who's leading the development of a new catalyst for ethanol production, said it may be possible to efficiently produce liquid fuel directly from synthesis gas.
The key will be carbon-based nanoparticles just a few billionths of a meter wide. The particles are made from graphite and carry a transition metal that produces a chemical reaction. That reaction converts synthesis gas to ethanol.
Lin said there is an existing chemical catalyst that can convert synthesis gas to ethanol. But that catalyst has a very low yield of ethanol, produces greenhouse gases such as methane, needs heat up to 540 degrees Fahrenheit and requires high pressures.
Lin said the new catalyst should work at lower temperatures and pressures while delivering a higher yield of ethanol.
Could the technology be commercially viable?
"It's premature to say whether we have a realistic chance of that or not," Lin said. "But I can say this has shown some exciting preliminary results."
The three Iowa State researchers said the project has potential to do a lot more than develop new technologies and patents.
A project summary says using biomass to produce ethanol and provide heat for ethanol production can reduce the nation's dependence on foreign oil, reduce the carbon footprint of ethanol plants, increase the plants' renewable energy ratio, boost the profitability of biorefineries and put energy dollars into local economies.
John Reardon, the research and development manager for Frontline BioEnergy, said an ethanol plant that produces 100 million gallons per year could buy enough biomass to add $10 million per year to the local economy. He also said repowering conventional ethanol plants with biomass-based gas could create more than a thousand new engineering and construction jobs over a 10-year conversion period.
Brown said all that can add up to "a potentia
|Contact: Song-Charng Kong|
Iowa State University