We will soon be having cheaper and better biofuels that are renewable. This is according to an announcement by the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR) on 9th May 2014.
The agency has worked on catalysts that will get rid of compounds that are oxygenated which are usually present in bio oils. This immense interest in renewable fuels has been brought about by increased prices of fuel, diminishing oil reserves and concern for the environment.
Bio fuels are a product of forestry or agricultural waste. They are more preferred due to the fact that they do not interfere with the resources that go in hand with food crop production.
Treatment of the above mentioned waste materials using high temperatures also causes the production of oxygenated compounds in large amounts. Such compounds have negative properties such as high corrosiveness and viscosity.
Other workers and Jie Chang and Armando Borgna from the A*STAR Institute of Chemical and Engineering Sciences in Singapore have described a method of upgrading the oils using a series of catalysts. These catalysts remove the unwanted functional groups that contain oxygen.
They further explain that in this process they use a compound known as guaiacol as a representation of the bio oils. They found out that the catalysts that can be used to deoxygenate this model are made of molybdenum metal that is supported by carbon.
The sources of biomass waste are diverse thus there is a lot of variability when it comes to the content as a result of the first heat treatment. When it comes to using guaiacol the function groups containing oxygen can be removed. This is because guaiacol is one compound that is easily available.
Catalyst used in removing sulphur in petroleum refineries for the production of cleaner fuels are not quite the optimum solution when it comes to deoxygenating. "The desulfurization catalysts are well developed and understood because of extensive research into the mechanisms by which they work," explains Chang. "We are using guaiacol as a model compound to develop a similar level of understanding for deoxygenation."
The researchers have identified the best catalysts which completely convert guaiacol and eighty per cent of what is selected to the hydrocarbon products desired within a matter of minutes.
Chang and his workmates also did an in-depth study of the catalysts’ structure initially before the reaction, during the reaction and after the catalysts got deactivated. This is when they also made an attempt to identify the process of reaction.
They focused on the types of function groups containing oxygen that were the first to react and if they affected the catalyst’s performance.
In his final remarks Chang stated that as much as the catalyst selection was critical, its stability and activity also mattered. He also added that they had a long way to go before the whole thing became commercial.