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U of M researchers invent 'flashy' new process to turn soy oil, glucose into hydrogen

ethanol or turned into other fuels. That requires special enzymes and lots of time. But the high heat of the new process breaks those bonds with ease, meaning cellulose and similar plant materials can possibly be used as feedstocks.

Schmidt and his university colleagues--graduate students James Salge, Brady Dreyer and Paul Dauenhauer--have produced a pound of synthesis gas in a day using their small-scale reactor.

Here's how the new process works: The oil and sugar water are sprayed as fine droplets from an automotive fuel injector through a tube onto a ceramic disk made of a catalyst material--the elements rhodium and cerium--that guides the breakup of the feedstock molecules toward the production of syngas and away from water and carbon "gunk." Because the catalytic disk is porous, the syngas passes through it and is collected downstream in the tube. No external heat is needed, because the chemical reactions that produce syngas release enough heat to break up subsequent molecules of oil or sugar.

"The secret is ultrafast flash volatilization [vaporization]," said Schmidt. "It happens here because we vaporize the fuel and mix it with oxygen before it sees the catalyst so it doesn't burn to char. This is potentially 100 times faster than what is currently available to make syngas and hydrogen."

Schmidt gained national attention in February 2004, when a team he headed invented a similar apparatus to produce hydrogen from ethanol.


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Source:University of Minnesota


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