Osaka University researchers have created a catalyst for refining chemicals in plant waste, allowing a green way to produce valuable raw materials.

The research team has discovered how to create valuable chemicals from clean sources. They used biomass, essentially waste from plant materials. Biomass is rich in organic molecules – long chains of carbon atoms attached to oxygen. Existing methods can break the carbon-oxygen bonds in these molecules to create, for example, raw materials for plastics. However, breaking the carbon-carbon bonds, in order to shorten the molecular chains, is harder; extreme temperatures are needed, and often yield unwanted products.

This is a TEM image of CeO2-supported ruthenium nanoparticles catalyst. Yellow circles show Ru nanoparticles.  Image Credit: Osaka University. Click image for the largest view.

The method developed at Osaka is based on a new catalyst. Catalysts allow reactions to occur, without being consumed themselves. They are often based on metals, and the new example is no exception – it consists of atomically small particles of ruthenium, a metal related to iron, sitting on a material called cerium oxide.

The team’s research paper has been published in Scientific Reports.

After creating their catalyst, the researchers tested it on levulinic acid (LA) from biomass. LA was reacted to break C-C bonds at 150º Celsius – hot at room temperature standards, but mild by industrial standards. The reaction product was 2-butanol, an important chemical for manufacturing solvents.

Study first author Tomoo Mizugaki explained, “This is the first time that 2-butanol has been made in this green way, using LA. Traditionally, it is made from butene, which comes from highly polluting oil refineries.”

Encouraged by the result, the team tested their catalyst on other biomass chemicals. A range of valuable products was obtained. Crucially, the reactions always broke carbon-carbon bonds. This allowed them to produce, for example, cyclohexanol, an important chemical in the manufacture of nylon.

X-ray and microscope studies confirmed that the combination of ruthenium, cerium oxide and water was vital for the reaction to occur. The new catalyst therefore fills an important gap in the chemist’s toolbox of reactions.

Corresponding author Kiyotomi Kaneda said, “We hope this method helps all sectors of industry obtain raw materials from non-fossil sources. We need a radical change in thinking, so that bio-derived chemicals are considered as primary options in manufacturing.”

The press release lead paragraph stated, “The fight against climate change is a call-to-arms for industry. We currently rely on fossil fuels, a major source of the greenhouse gas CO2, not only for energy but also to create chemicals for manufacturing. To ween our economies off this dependency, we must find a new source of “green” raw materials so that factories and laboratories can run without producing and emitting CO2.”

Congratulations are in order for what will be over time an important discovery. Moreover it will also serve as a first step for even more research in this field. Perhaps one day the new catalyst will be a group working on paper cardboard and other materials as well as plant waste so prevalent in land fills. One can imagine some that landfills, a growing bane of civilization, will become valuable mining sites.


Comments

6 Comments so far

  1. Alise on November 14, 2017 4:07 AM

    Perhaps one day the new catalyst will be a group working on paper cardboard and other materials as well as plant waste so prevalent in land fills.

  2. Aimix on November 14, 2017 4:08 AM

    One can imagine some that landfills, a growing bane of civilization, will become valuable mining sites.

  3. Aimix on November 14, 2017 4:09 AM

    We hope this method helps all sectors of industry obtain raw materials from non-fossil sources. We need a radical change in thinking, so that bio-derived chemicals are considered as primary options in manufacturing.

  4. bella on November 14, 2017 4:10 AM

    The method developed at Osaka is based on a new catalyst. Catalysts allow reactions to occur, without being consumed themselves.

  5. sica on November 15, 2017 12:43 AM

    One can imagine some that landfills, a growing bane of civilization, will become valuable mining sites.

  6. Peter on November 15, 2017 12:44 AM

    Encouraged by the result, the team tested their catalyst on other biomass chemicals. A range of valuable products was obtained. Crucially, the reactions always broke carbon-carbon bonds. This allowed them to produce, for example, cyclohexanol, an important chemical in the manufacture of nylon.

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