Researchers Turn Fermented Biomass Into Gasoline With Palladium Catalysis
November 9, 2012 12:45 PM
comment(s) - last by
The process was inspired by an explosives making method
What can't palladium do? Named after the mythological statue erected by Greek goddess Athena in honor of Pallas, the daughter of her cousin whom she slew in a friendly fight, the platinum group metal (PGM) is
used in everything
to explosives making.
I. From Explosives to Biofuel
U.S. Department of Energy
Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
(referred to as LBNL or Berkeley Lab) -- located on the campus of the University of California, Berkeley -- have devised a way to use palladium to catalyze the production of gasoline, diesel, or jet fuel from fermented biomass.
fermented by genetically engineered bacterium
, produces a slurry of low-carbon byproducts -- acetone and the alcohols butanol and ethanol (known collectively as ABE).
The LBNL researchers were inspired to use palladium as a means of producing higher-carbon byproducts based on a similar technique used to produce cordite, a type of smokeless explosive. While largely made obsolete by newer formulations in the improved military rifle (IMR) nitrocellulose smokeless powders, cordite played a key role in military history, being used heavily by the British in World War II.
The new work is one more example of the value of multi-functional palladium.
[Image Source: Unknown]
describes the pickup of this throwback catalysis process, remarking, "In some ways, this work is a step back in time in which a very old fermentation process is being used with some new engineering and chemistry. While there has been some progress in engineering microbes to produce advanced biofuels, the quantities produced thus far – technically, the solution’s titer – tend to be very limited. A hybrid method, combining microbial production with chemical catalysis, might provide a pathway to more efficient production of these advanced biofuels."
The process begins by bacterial fermentation. [Image Source: Toste Group]
From a layman's perspective, the bacteria takes biomass -- say yard waste -- and "digests" it to produce a byproduct that is three parts acetone, six parts n-butanol, and one part ethanol. The acetone is the key to move to longer chains, as it can be used to "tack" on carbons onto the short-chain alcohols, building long carbon chains that mirror those found in traditional fossil fuel-derived gasoline.
The acetone's nucleophilic alpha-carbon undergoes alkylation reactions to produce longer chain carbons. But the process is slow and energetically unfavorable, so a catalyst is needed to lower the energy barrier.
Many catalysts were tested, but the LBNL team found one worked much better than the rest -- palladium. Researchers say the process, which they tested in small vats, is amenable to commercial production.
II. Challenges Remain
One limiting factor will be the cost of palladium. While fuel is valuable as anyone who drives a car recognizes, palladium is an even more expensive resource. It sells for approximately $20,500 USD per kilogram [
]. Therein lies one problem; the longer the ABE spends on the palladium, the more long-chain byproducts are produced. So if you had more palladium and more vats, you could spread the ABE out for more palladium TLC. But the high costs are somewhat limiting to that approach. That said, process engineers could optimize the process to maximize yields and minimize cost.
Still, the process is much better than other ABE techniques, such as hydrogenation from a yields perspective. States Professor Blanch, "Integrating chemistry and fermentation is a useful way to capitalize on the best of both worlds. The chemistry described in our Nature paper is exciting because new carbon-carbon bonds are being formed between molecules and oxygen is being rejected without the need of hydrogenation. This results in very high yields."
The researchers have published their work in the prestigious peer-reviewed journal
. The paper's co-authors include Professor Blanch, plus
, and corresponding author
The research was funded by the
Energy Biosciences Institute
Coming up with a viable biomass supply change is a key challenge.
[Image Source: DeCamp Trucking]
Looking ahead, while the researchers exhaustively tested a series of PGM catalysts, they are hopefully that they may discover even better novel catalysts. Comments Professor Toste, who splits his time between UC Berkley and LBNL, "While palladium on carbon was the best catalyst in these tests, we have already identified other transition metal catalysts that could be even better."
Tough challenges for a biomass-based fuel economy remain -- including how to
funnel/transport common biomass sources
(yard waste, forestry byproducts, farm waste, etc.) into a steady supply chain to fuel production facilities. But work like this gives biomass fermentation a leg up over other struggling biofuel offerings like
the highly unattractive corn ethanol
This article is over a month old, voting and posting comments is disabled
RE: Palladium Price
11/9/2012 2:53:27 PM
No, you are correct, but the relevant phrase is "over time", similar to the catalytic converter in your car. Eventually, it DOES wear out, however, it's not a major cost in the grand scheme of things compared to the cost of consumables.
RE: Palladium Price
11/9/2012 3:28:38 PM
You still eventually run out. Paladium is expensive because its rare. And how much would you need to even begin to start producing fuel at a level sufficient to supply large percentages of demand? Probably a lot. This going into use would spike paladium prices.
RE: Palladium Price
11/9/2012 4:09:19 PM
The thing is that the Paladium can be recycled after it is fouled. (It gathers contaminates, which have to be smelted off. It costs money, energy, and time, but it can be done pretty easily. They already do this with catalytic converters in cars.) While there will be a maintenance cost, the full cost of Paladium won't be a major hindrance.
RE: Palladium Price
11/11/2012 3:53:46 PM
The current price of Palladium is around US$ 600 per ounce. Let's say you need 1 ounce of Palladium to produce 1,000 gallons of fuel (and after that you need to recycle/renew the catalyst), then the cost of palladium per gallon of fuel would be US$ 0.60
"This week I got an iPhone. This weekend I got four chargers so I can keep it charged everywhere I go and a land line so I can actually make phone calls." -- Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg
Obama's EPA Faces Decision Between Corn Ethanol Profits and Farm Jobs
October 12, 2012, 2:51 PM
New Metallic Glass is Strongest, Toughest Material Available
January 11, 2011, 2:26 PM
Mazda Developing New Engines, Powertrains to Boost Fuel Economy
August 25, 2009, 8:30 AM
Coskata Throws Down the Gauntlet: Live From Platts 2008, Part II
October 13, 2008, 12:52 PM
New Technology Promises Huge Increase in Ethanol Yield from Grass
July 30, 2008, 5:02 PM
Michigan Governor Signs “Anti Tesla” Bill That Bans Direct Sales, GM Applauds Decision
October 22, 2014, 8:56 AM
Report: 2015 Ford Focus Electric MSRP Slashed by $6,000, Will Retail for $29,995
October 18, 2014, 6:23 PM
Chevrolet Sonic EV to Have 200-mile Range, Debut in 2017
October 10, 2014, 12:01 PM
Auto Start-Stop Systems Will be Installed on Nearly 60% of New Vehicles by 2020
October 8, 2014, 4:19 PM
Volvo XC90 to Receive Triple-turbocharged, 450hp 2.0-liter Four-cylinder Engine
October 7, 2014, 2:29 PM
Nissan Still Trying to Make a Profit on Leaf EV
October 6, 2014, 5:46 PM
Most Popular Articles
Chinese Government Declares Digital War Against America's Top Tech Firms
October 20, 2014, 12:07 PM
Samsung Announces Galaxy S5 Plus with Snapdragon 805 Processor, LTE-A
October 22, 2014, 3:40 PM
Windows 8.1 + Android "Sell Mini PC" w/ Bay Trail Creates New PC Form Factor
October 20, 2014, 5:07 PM
Apple Releases iOS 8.1; Adds Apple Pay Support, SMS Relay, Instant Hotspot
October 20, 2014, 1:00 PM
Apple's iPad Air 2 Features Triple-core A8X Processor, 2GB of RAM
October 21, 2014, 8:32 PM
Latest Blog Posts
The Surface Mini That Was Never Released Gets "Hands On" Treatment
Sep 26, 2014, 8:22 AM
ISIS Imposes Ban on Teaching Evolution in Iraq
Sep 17, 2014, 5:22 PM
Space Terrorism is a Looming Threat For the United States
Apr 23, 2014, 7:47 PM
Facebook Aims to Provide Internet to "Every Person in the World" with Drones, Satellites
Apr 1, 2014, 10:20 AM
Retail Mobile Sites Experience Outages in Light of Simplexity's Bankruptcy
Mar 14, 2014, 8:48 AM
More Blog Posts
Copyright 2014 DailyTech LLC. -
Terms, Conditions & Privacy Information