Researchers Improve Process To Create Chemicals For Fuel Additives, Feedstock

Oct. 12, 2016
Novel method from Washington State University research team creates important industrial chemicals simply and cheaply.

A Washington State University research team uses the Fischer-Tropsch process in a new way to create alcohols and aldehydes used widely as fuel additives and as feedstock for plasticizers, detergents, lubricants and cosmetics. The discovery could lower the cost and energy required to produce the chemicals and possibly provide cleaner manufacturing, according to WSU.

A patent has been filed on the process by Norbert Kruse, WSU Voiland Distinguished Professor and Yizhi Xiang, a postdoctoral fellow in the Gene and Linda Voiland School of Chemical Engineering and Bioengineering. Kruse holds a joint appointment at the U.S. Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland, Wash.

The Fischer-Tropsch process is a chemical reaction that uses catalysts to convert two gases, carbon monoxide and hydrogen, to liquid fuels in a simple, one-step process, according to WSU. It has reportedly been used for almost a century to create liquid fuels, which are made of long chains of molecules containing only carbon and hydrogen. Current industrial processes to make alcohols and aldehydes require starting with a complex, petrochemical-based target molecule, an olefin, which is then converted to liquid chemicals in a complicated series of several ste

To make the alcohols and aldehydes in the one-step Fischer-Tropsch process, the WSU researchers used a catalyst made of cobalt, manganese and potassium. To form the liquid, the two gases react at the surface of the solid catalyst. Both cobalt and manganese are abundantly available, and the entire process could be significantly less expensive than more complicated methods, according to WSU. The researchers also determined for the first time that they can create different amounts of chemicals depending on the ratio of carbon monoxide and hydrogen gases. The researchers have reportedly started working with industry partners to commercialize their method.

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