Plant waste, consisting of wood-like biomass, such as branches, plant stalks, and pruning waste, is converted at high temperature into synthesis gas. Next, a one-step process flows the gas over the catalyst and produces lower olefins, which are building blocks that can be used to make plastics and other substances such as biopaints and biopharmaceuticals. "The products are exactly the same, only they are made of pruning waste instead of petroleum," said research team leader Utrecht University professor Krijn de Jong in a press release. Because they are chemically identical with petroleum-based products, the building blocks will not be biodegradable.
A new catalyst consisting of iron nanospheres (dark areas) converts gas generated from plant waste into biofuel and bioplastic building blocks in a single step. (Source: Hirsa M. Torres Galvis, Utrecht University.)
Other technologies for fabricating products of the same quality primarily from plant waste have existed for some time. But the process involved so many steps that these technologies were not efficient or economical enough to be used on a large scale, said de Jong. Utrecht University team members also include professor Harry Bitter and doctoral candidate Hirsa M. Torres Galvis in the university's inorganic chemistry and catalysis department.
Another catalyst used larger iron particles, typically 500 nanometers in diameter, which were clustered together. This process was not very efficient and produced large amounts of methane as a byproduct. The research team's success came in part from reducing the size of the iron nanoparticles to 20 nanometers in diameter and spacing them evenly.
Interesting new material, Ann. Since the result is a material that is not more biodegradable than oil products, I would imagine the researchers are seeking other advantages from the material. Is it that branches are less expensive than oil?
This reminds me of those Mobil commercials where the research talks about the wonders of algae and how they're growing them in the lab so they can one day be used as a source of renewable fuel. The difference here, and in other recent materials you've written about, Ann, is that the "one day" is today.
Think it's a way forward, most landscaping companies and timber companies just dump branches (in Africa), but they did mention production of Methane in large amounts, it might be another way to go, as methane looks like a good alternative to oil. Oil being more capital intensive than this alternative I assume
Ann, I'm not knocking this way-cool technology. But what I am knocking is our current political climate. While "Oil from Branches" is considered cutting edge and a renewable resource, what if, millions of years ago, our ancestors had the foresight to take fallen branches and stockpile them underground until later generations had the technology to convert the branches into fuel. And what if millions of years ago, our ancestors had the foresight to collect all of the algae they could find and stockpile it underground until later generations had the technology to convert the algae into fuel.
The awesome thing is that nature did just that. We are the later generations and we have an abundance of old branches in the form of "coal" and an abundance of old algae in the form of "petroleum". If a politician could prove that their ancestors created the stockpiles, we would make them Monarch for Life. As it stands, Coal and Petroleum are somehow "alien" technologies that are only here to poison the earth. Until scientists and engineers fix that perception, we will remain in the dark.
Overall, seems like a step into a science fiction movie.If I follow the chemistry correctly, the big deal is the creation of engineered resins from a renewable natural resource.But on the down side, it seems like science has morphed an entity that was once biodegradable, and stabilized it such that it will never decompose. I guess like everything, it's a knife that cuts both ways.
Rob, this is a discovery with two major "wow"s: 1) basically a "it's not made from food crops and doesn't compete with them for agricultural land" alternative, which we've already seen in some bioplastics. But at least as important, it's also different because instead of multiple steps to go from plants to oil, there's only 1 (or 2, depending on how you count). So it's more efficient, therefore less expensive and faster.
Thanks, Ann. Those two wow's make sense. I would imagine the wood, branches, etc. would be waste, thus this technology would recycle them. I would also guess this waste would be less expensive simply because it's waste and doesn't cost $108 a barrel before processing.
becksint, thanks for the feedback from another part of the world. It's certainly an alternative to biodegrading without managed composting, which is what would happen eventually to waste plant material that gets dumped. JIm, the point of using renewable resources like plant material for manufacturing plastics or fuels is to replace the ones we're either running out of and/or that are toxic, such as coal and petroleum. Of course, if we decided we didn't need so much fuel, or could somehow make it out of solar and wind sources, then we could just leave all that plant material to biodegrade. I do wonder what happens if we start diverting huge amounts of plant material from ecosystems that depend on them to produce things like food and water.
Alex, I keep having the same experience, finding and writing about these new discoveries and/or possible technologies. That's especially true since I've been a sci-fi fan since age 11. The future is here.
Truchard will be presented the award at the 2014 Golden Mousetrap Awards ceremony during the co-located events Pacific Design & Manufacturing, MD&M West, WestPack, PLASTEC West, Electronics West, ATX West, and AeroCon.
In a bid to boost the viability of lithium-based electric car batteries, a team at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory has developed a chemistry that could possibly double an EV’s driving range while cutting its battery cost in half.
For industrial control applications, or even a simple assembly line, that machine can go almost 24/7 without a break. But what happens when the task is a little more complex? That’s where the “smart” machine would come in. The smart machine is one that has some simple (or complex in some cases) processing capability to be able to adapt to changing conditions. Such machines are suited for a host of applications, including automotive, aerospace, defense, medical, computers and electronics, telecommunications, consumer goods, and so on. This discussion will examine what’s possible with smart machines, and what tradeoffs need to be made to implement such a solution.