Journal of Powder Metallurgy and Mining
University of Minnesota engineering researchers are leading an international team that has made a major breakthrough in developing a catalyst used during chemical reactions in the production of gasoline, plastics, biofuels, pharmaceuticals, and other chemicals. The discovery could lead to major efficiencies and cost-savings in these multibillion-dollar industries.
The research is to be published in the June 29, 2012 issue of the leading scientific journal Science.
“The impact of this new discovery is enormous,” said the team’s lead researcher Michael Tsapatsis, a chemical engineering and materials science professor in the University of Minnesota College of Science and Engineering. “Every drop of gasoline we use needs a catalyst to change the oil molecules into usable gasoline during the refining process.”
This research improves efficiencies by giving molecules fast access to the catalysts where the chemical reactions occur. Tsapatsis compared it to our use of freeways and side streets in our daily lives.
“It’s faster and more efficient to use freeways to get where we want to go and exit to do our business compared to driving the side streets the entire way,” he explained. “The catalysts used today are more like all side streets. Molecules move slowly and get stuck. The efficiencies of these new catalysts could lower the costs of gasoline and other products for all of us.”
The research team built their prototype of the new catalyst using highly optimized ultra-thin zeolite nanosheets. They used a unique process to encourage growth of these nanosheets at 90-degree angles, similar to building a house of cards. The house-of-cards arrangement of the nanosheets makes the catalyst faster, more selective and more stable, but can be made at the same cost (or possibly cheaper) than traditional catalysts.
With faster catalysts available at no extra cost to the producer, production per manufacturing dollar will increase. With a higher output, it is conceivable that consumer costs will drop.
This new discovery builds upon previous discoveries at the University of Minnesota of ultra-thin zeolite nanosheets used as specialized molecular sieves for production of both renewable and fossil-based fuels and chemicals. These discoveries, licensed by the new Minnesota start-up company Argilex Technologies, are key components of the company’s materials-based platform. The development of the new catalyst is complete, and the material is ready for customer testing.
“This breakthrough can have a major impact on both the conversion of natural gas to higher value chemicals and fuels, and on bio- and petroleum refiners,” said Cesar Gonzalez, CEO of Argilex Technologies. “Using catalysts made by this novel approach, refiners will be able to obtain a higher yield of desirable products such as gasoline, diesel, ethylene and propylene. At Argilex, we envision this catalyst technology platform to become a key contributor to efficient use of natural resources and improved economics of the world’s largest industries.”
Researchers on the team are from around the globe. In addition to the University of Minnesota, researchers are from institutions in Tokyo, Abu Dhabi, Korea and Sweden.
Primary funding for this research is from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Center for Catalysis and Energy Innovation, an Energy Frontier Research Center. The University of Minnesota is a partner in this multi-institutional research center at the University of Delaware. Other funding for this research is from the National Science Foundation Emerging Frontiers in Research and Innovation Program, the University of Minnesota’s Initiative for Renewable Energy and the Environment, and the Abu Dhabi-Minnesota Institute for Research Excellence (ADMIRE) partnership between the University of Minnesota and the Abu Dhabi Petroleum Institute.
Journal of Powder Metallurgy and Mining
University of Arkansas physicists have found a way to systematically study and control the transition of graphite, the “lead” found in pencils, to graphene, one of the strongest, lightest and most conductive materials known, an important step in the process of learning to use this material in modern day technology.
Peng Xu, Paul Thibado, Yurong Yang, Laurent Bellaiche and their colleagues report their findings in the journal Carbon.
Physicists at the University of Manchester first isolated graphene, a one atom thick sheet of carbon atoms, by using Scotch tape to lift only the top layer off of the other layers of graphite. Electrons moving through graphite have mass and encounter resistance, but electrons moving through graphene are massless and encounter almost no resistance, which makes graphene an excellent candidate material for future energy needs and for quantum computing for enormous calculations while using little energy.
However, graphene is a new material only discovered in 2004, and many things remain unknown about its properties.
“The transition from graphite to graphene can be random,” said Xu. “Our idea was to control this.”
The researchers used a new technique called electrostatic manipulation scanning tunneling microscopy to “lift” the top layer of graphite, creating graphene. Scientists have traditionally used scanning tunneling microscopy on a stationary surface, but this new technique uses a moving surface to move between graphite and grapheme.
“Not only can we make it happen, but we can control the process,” Xu said.
Using this technique, the researchers can tell how much force it takes to create graphene and how much distance exists between graphene and the graphite as well as to track the total energy of the process.
How the electron acquires its mass is a fundamental topic and is related to particle physicists’ hunt for the Higgs boson, a long-hypothesized elementary particle that has predicted properties, such as a lack of spin and electric charge, but that does not have a predicted value for mass. Being able to move electrons between a massive and massless state allows scientists to study this duality and how it works. The level of control the scientists have over the process will allow them to figure out possible ways to use graphene for advancing this understanding.
Journal of Powder Metallurgy and Mining
Ever since Hennig Brand’s discovery in 1669, elementary phosphorus has fascinated chemists around the world. It is industrially produced by the ton and its compounds have numerous applications in materials science and the life sciences. The main known forms of the element are white, red, and black phosphorus.
In addition, there are hundreds of compounds in which phosphorus is present as an anion, a negatively charged ion. Some of these compounds have very useful properties. They are suitable for use as electrode materials for lithium-ion batteries, for instance. But all attempts in the past decades to synthesize a positively charged cation as a complement to the known negative ion have failed. A research team led by Prof. Dr. Ingo Krossing from the Faculty of Chemistry, Pharmacy, and Earth Sciences of the University of Freiburg has now succeeded in creating a positively charged pure phosphorus compound.
The results have been published in a recent issue of the journal Angewandte Chemie.
The team used the stabilizing effect of an non-reactive counterion to synthesize sizable quantities of the first ever pure phosphorus cation [P9]+ both in solution and in solid form. In addition, the salt obtained in this way remains stable for weeks at room temperature. It is thus finally possible to perform chemical reactions with this particle, which was previously known only from gas-phase experiments. Due to its broad availability, it can be used in fundamental as well as applied research. One promising possibility is the semiconductor synthesis of the compound gallium phosphide, which is relevant for blue light-emitting diodes (LED).