Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Uncovering a reaction’s secrets

23.03.2015

A theoretical and experimental study could lead to improved catalysts for producing hydrogen fuel from waste biomass

Experimental analysis and computer simulations reveal new insights into the process by which ethanol produced from waste biomass can be converted into hydrogen in the presence of a catalyst. These insights should aid the design of more efficient catalysts for hydrogen production.


Understanding the ethanol steam reforming reaction mechanism is crucial for the design of cheap and efficient catalysts able to convert biomass to hydrogen fuel.

© pitnu/iStock/Thinkstock

Hydrogen gas is an environmentally friendly alternative to fossil fuels. Today, through a process known as steam reforming, hydrogen is obtained by using steam to break up a hydrocarbon — most commonly, methane in natural gas. However, ethanol produced by fermenting waste biomass is potentially a cleaner starting material for this process.

However, despite having been extensively studied in recent years, steam reforming of ethanol is currently too inefficient to produce hydrogen on an industrial scale. This stems partly from the complexity of its reaction, which can yield a range of different products. “Our lack of understanding of the detailed reaction mechanism hinders further improvement of a catalyst for the reaction,” explains Jia Zhang of the A*STAR Institute of High Performance Computing in Singapore. “The reaction was a black box before we started exploring it.”

Now, Zhang and her co-workers have used experiments and computer simulations to probe how ethanol breaks down into hydrogen on rhodium catalysts supported on zirconia-based oxides1. These nanosized catalysts had previously been shown to be highly active for this reaction.

The team used gas chromatography and mass spectrometry to monitor in real time the intermediate species that form as the reaction proceeds. These measurements revealed that the C2H4O species is an important intermediate. Of the two possible structures this species can adopt, acetaldehyde (CH3CHO) was identified as the most probable one by the team’s computer calculations. The calculations also showed that water plays an unexpectedly important role in controlling the reaction pathway.

Based on this knowledge, the team proposed a mechanism for the reaction under their chosen conditions. Hydrogen is produced at most stages along the pathway, including the final step in which carbon monoxide reacts with water to produce hydrogen and carbon dioxide. The team’s calculations showed that the success of this final step is critical in determining the amount of hydrogen produced by steam reforming.

“Our theoretical simulations and experimental analysis provide important information on the reaction mechanism,” says Zhang. “This is a fundamental step forward in our understanding of the catalyst, which is the basis of catalyst design.” The team’s ultimate goal is to design catalysts that can produce hydrogen more cheaply and efficiently than current catalysts.

The A*STAR-affiliated researchers contributing to this research are from the Institute of High Performance Computing and the Institute of Chemical Engineering and Sciences

Reference
Zhang, J., Zhong, Z., Cao, X.-M., Hu, P., Sullivan, M. B. & Chen, L. Ethanol steam reforming on Rh catalysts: Theoretical and experimental understanding. ACS Catalysis 4, 448–456 (2014). | article

A*STAR Research | ResearchSEA
Further information:
http://www.research.a-star.edu.sg/research/7208
http://www.researchsea.com

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht In focus: Peptides, the “little brothers and sisters” of proteins
12.11.2018 | Technische Universität Berlin

nachricht How to produce fluorescent nanoparticles for medical applications in a nuclear reactor
09.11.2018 | Institute of Organic Chemistry and Biochemistry of the Czech Academy of Sciences (IOCB Prague)

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: A Leap Into Quantum Technology

Faster and secure data communication: This is the goal of a new joint project involving physicists from the University of Würzburg. The German Federal Ministry of Education and Research funds the project with 14.8 million euro.

In our digital world data security and secure communication are becoming more and more important. Quantum communication is a promising approach to achieve...

Im Focus: Research icebreaker Polarstern begins the Antarctic season

What does it look like below the ice shelf of the calved massive iceberg A68?

On Saturday, 10 November 2018, the research icebreaker Polarstern will leave its homeport of Bremerhaven, bound for Cape Town, South Africa.

Im Focus: Penn engineers develop ultrathin, ultralight 'nanocardboard'

When choosing materials to make something, trade-offs need to be made between a host of properties, such as thickness, stiffness and weight. Depending on the application in question, finding just the right balance is the difference between success and failure

Now, a team of Penn Engineers has demonstrated a new material they call "nanocardboard," an ultrathin equivalent of corrugated paper cardboard. A square...

Im Focus: Coping with errors in the quantum age

Physicists at ETH Zurich demonstrate how errors that occur during the manipulation of quantum system can be monitored and corrected on the fly

The field of quantum computation has seen tremendous progress in recent years. Bit by bit, quantum devices start to challenge conventional computers, at least...

Im Focus: Nanorobots propel through the eye

Scientists developed specially coated nanometer-sized vehicles that can be actively moved through dense tissue like the vitreous of the eye. So far, the transport of nano-vehicles has only been demonstrated in model systems or biological fluids, but not in real tissue. The work was published in the journal Science Advances and constitutes one step further towards nanorobots becoming minimally-invasive tools for precisely delivering medicine to where it is needed.

Researchers of the “Micro, Nano and Molecular Systems” Lab at the Max Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems in Stuttgart, together with an international...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

“3rd Conference on Laser Polishing – LaP 2018” Attracts International Experts and Users

09.11.2018 | Event News

On the brain’s ability to find the right direction

06.11.2018 | Event News

European Space Talks: Weltraumschrott – eine Gefahr für die Gesellschaft?

23.10.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

In focus: Peptides, the “little brothers and sisters” of proteins

12.11.2018 | Life Sciences

Materials scientist creates fabric alternative to batteries for wearable devices

12.11.2018 | Materials Sciences

A two-atom quantum duet

12.11.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>