Anyone who's overheated vegetable oil or sweet syrup knows that neither oil nor sugar evaporates--oil smokes and turns brown, sugar turns black, and both leave a nasty film of carbon on the cookware.
Now, a University of Minnesota team has invented a "reactive flash volatilization process" that heats oil and sugar about a million times faster than you can in your kitchen and produces hydrogen and carbon monoxide, a mixture called synthesis gas, or syngas, because it is used to make chemicals and fuels, including gasoline. The new process works 10 to 100 times faster than current technology, with no input of fossil fuels and in reactors at least 10 times smaller than current models. The work could significantly improve the efficiency of fuel production from renewable energy sources. It will be published Nov. 3 in Science.
"It's a way to take cheap, worthless biomass and turn it into useful fuels and chemicals," said team leader Lanny Schmidt, a Regents Professor of chemical engineering and materials science at the university. "Potentially, the biomass could be used cooking oil or even products from cow manure, yard clippings, cornstalks or trees."
One up-and-coming fuel is biodiesel, which is produced from soy oil. Currently, the key step in conversion of the oil to biodiesel requires the addition of methanol, a fossil fuel. The new process skips the biodiesel step and turns oil straight into hydrogen and carbon monoxide gases by heating it to about 1,000 degrees C. About 70 percent of the hydrogen in the oil is converted to hydrogen gas. Similarly, using a nearly saturated solution of glucose in water, the process heats the sugar so fast that it, too, breaks up into syngas instead of its usual products: carbon and water.
A difficulty in turning plant material into usable fuels has been breaking down the chemical bonds in cellulose--the material that gives plant cell walls their stiffness--to liberate simple sugars that can be fermented into ethanol or turned into other fuels. That requires special enzymes and lots of time. But the high heat of the new process breaks those bonds with ease, meaning cellulose and similar plant materials can possibly be used as feedstocks.
Schmidt and his university colleagues--graduate students James Salge, Brady Dreyer and Paul Dauenhauer--have produced a pound of synthesis gas in a day using their small-scale reactor.
Here's how the new process works: The oil and sugar water are sprayed as fine droplets from an automotive fuel injector through a tube onto a ceramic disk made of a catalyst material--the elements rhodium and cerium--that guides the breakup of the feedstock molecules toward the production of syngas and away from water and carbon "gunk." Because the catalytic disk is porous, the syngas passes through it and is collected downstream in the tube. No external heat is needed, because the chemical reactions that produce syngas release enough heat to break up subsequent molecules of oil or sugar.
"The secret is ultrafast flash volatilization [vaporization]," said Schmidt. "It happens here because we vaporize the fuel and mix it with oxygen before it sees the catalyst so it doesn't burn to char. This is potentially 100 times faster than what is currently available to make syngas and hydrogen."
Schmidt gained national attention in February 2004, when a team he headed invented a similar apparatus to produce hydrogen from ethanol.
Mark Cassutt | EurekAlert!
Waste from paper and pulp industry supplies raw material for development of new redox flow batteries
12.10.2017 | Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz
Low-cost battery from waste graphite
11.10.2017 | Empa - Eidgenössische Materialprüfungs- und Forschungsanstalt
University of Maryland researchers contribute to historic detection of gravitational waves and light created by event
On August 17, 2017, at 12:41:04 UTC, scientists made the first direct observation of a merger between two neutron stars--the dense, collapsed cores that remain...
Seven new papers describe the first-ever detection of light from a gravitational wave source. The event, caused by two neutron stars colliding and merging together, was dubbed GW170817 because it sent ripples through space-time that reached Earth on 2017 August 17. Around the world, hundreds of excited astronomers mobilized quickly and were able to observe the event using numerous telescopes, providing a wealth of new data.
Previous detections of gravitational waves have all involved the merger of two black holes, a feat that won the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physics earlier this month....
Material defects in end products can quickly result in failures in many areas of industry, and have a massive impact on the safe use of their products. This is why, in the field of quality assurance, intelligent, nondestructive sensor systems play a key role. They allow testing components and parts in a rapid and cost-efficient manner without destroying the actual product or changing its surface. Experts from the Fraunhofer IZFP in Saarbrücken will be presenting two exhibits at the Blechexpo in Stuttgart from 7–10 November 2017 that allow fast, reliable, and automated characterization of materials and detection of defects (Hall 5, Booth 5306).
When quality testing uses time-consuming destructive test methods, it can result in enormous costs due to damaging or destroying the products. And given that...
Using a new cooling technique MPQ scientists succeed at observing collisions in a dense beam of cold and slow dipolar molecules.
How do chemical reactions proceed at extremely low temperatures? The answer requires the investigation of molecular samples that are cold, dense, and slow at...
Scientists from the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics, using high precision laser spectroscopy of atomic hydrogen, confirm the surprisingly small value of the proton radius determined from muonic hydrogen.
It was one of the breakthroughs of the year 2010: Laser spectroscopy of muonic hydrogen resulted in a value for the proton charge radius that was significantly...
17.10.2017 | Event News
10.10.2017 | Event News
10.10.2017 | Event News
18.10.2017 | Materials Sciences
18.10.2017 | Physics and Astronomy
18.10.2017 | Physics and Astronomy