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Transforming waste into fuel

Development of new catalysts will help transform plant waste in to key chemicals and liquid fuels providing sustainable process for our future.

As our fossil fuel reserves are limited we require alternative feedstocks, such as sustainable biomass. Production of traditional biofuels runs the risk of competing with agriculture for precious farming land.

We are creating new catalysts that will allow waste products from agriculture, such as corn husks and stems, to be transformed into useful chemicals and fuels. This is a significant challenge as the tough lignocellulose components of the plants have to be broken down and then processed into chemical feedstocks. Currently this requires catalysts that employ costly and rare metals. NOVACAM are developing new non-critical metal catalysts for the upgrading of plant waste, so in the future we will have sustainable sources of key chemicals and fuels.

This is an EU-Japan collaboration with some partners dealing with deconstruction of lignocellulose into smaller fragments known as platform molecules. Others are focusing on the synthesis and testing of new catalysts based on non-precious metals for the processing of the platform molecules into useful compounds. An important part of the work is to use materials characterisation and computer modelling to understand how the new catalysts function so that materials design can be used to optimise catalyst performance.

We are focusing on the transformation of platform molecules into useful chemicals. Biomass tends to contain a higher proportion of oxygen than traditional fossil fuel carbon sources. The upgrading of these materials requires hydrogenation to remove this oxygen as water. We have already identified cheaper and more abundant metals that could replace the expensive ruthenium component of the catalysts that are currently used in this area. This will greatly reduce the cost of the platform chemical processing.

People

  • Prof Graham Hutchings FRS
  • Dr David Willock
  • Dr Jonathan Bartley
  • Dr Jennifer Edwards

Funding

  • European Union Seventh Framework Programme for research, technological development and demonstration (agreement no 604319)

Partners

Links