Researchers from KU Leuven and Utrecht University have discovered a new approach to the production of diesel fuel. The new method would be used to produce much cleaner diesel and can quickly be scaled up for industrial use. The researchers suggest that in 5 to 10 years, we may see the first cars driven by this new clean diesel.

Catalyst Process Makes Cleaner Diesel Fuel © KU Leuven. Click image for the largest view.

Catalyst Process Makes Cleaner Diesel Fuel © KU Leuven. Click image for the largest view.

The new production process involves the use of catalysts. These substances trigger the chemical reactions that convert raw material into fuel. In the case of diesel, small catalyst granules are added to the raw material to sufficiently change the molecules of the raw material to produce usable fuel.

The team’s research paper has been published in the journal Nature.

Catalysts can have one or more chemical functions. The catalyst that was used for this particular study has two functions, represented by two different materials: a metal (platinum) and a solid-state acid. During the production process for diesel, the molecules bounce to and fro between the metal and the acid. Each time a molecule comes into contact with one of the materials, it changes a little bit. At the end of the process, the molecules are ready to be used for diesel fuel.

Here is the breakthrough. The assumption has always been that the metal and the solid-state acid in the catalyst should be as close together as possible. That would speed up the production process by helping the molecules bounce to and fro more quickly. Professor Johan Martens (KU Leuven) and Professor Krijn de Jong (Utrecht University) have now discovered that this assumption is incorrect. If the functions within a catalyst are nanometers apart, the process yields better molecules for cleaner fuel.

Professor Martens said, “Our results are the exact opposite of what we had expected. At first, we thought that the samples had been switched or that something was wrong with our analysis. We repeated the experiments three times, only to arrive at the same conclusion: the current theory is wrong. There has to be a minimum distance between the functions within a catalyst. This goes against what the industry has been doing for the past 50 years.”

The new method can optimize quite a few molecules in diesel. Cars that are driven by this clean diesel would emit far fewer particulates and CO2. The researchers believe that their method can be scaled up for industrial use with relative ease, so the new diesel could be used in cars in 5 to 10 years.

The new technique can be applied to petroleum-based fuels, but also to renewable carbon from biomass.

This is a very interesting new technology. The only catch is the use of very expensive platinum. The press release doesn’t address the costs or other projections, but if the platinum is a permanent or very long lasting feature the technology might have real market power.

Perhaps even more interesting will be the cetane and other performance results. Better sized molecules that are more uniform could very well enhance the economy of diesel engines.

Lets hope others hope other take up this technology and drive the improvements further.


Comments

3 Comments so far

  1. good machine to use diesel fuel on August 31, 2017 9:17 PM

    Great discovery! Catalysts will bring us great benefits in the future!

  2. mini concrete mixer on September 10, 2017 9:59 PM

    Yes, diesel fuel is not unlimited, we should make full use of them.

  3. concrete mixer pump on September 12, 2017 4:38 AM

    Hope this new technology can be applied in the near future.

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