HYDERABAD: Researchers at IIT Hyderabad have developed a simple and innovative method to synthesise a catalyst that can convert chemicals derived from biomass into a precursor to diesel and jet fuel, the institute said on Tuesday.
This catalyst showed better efficiency and selectivity than commercial catalysts to produce the desired C15 oxygenated hydrocarbon, a biofuel precursor, researchers said in a statement.
The researchers described the novel process that can produce carbon catalysts at room temperatures using sugar, sulphuric acid and salt in the journal ACS Sustainable Chemistry and Engineering,
"The dehydration of sugar by concentrated sulfuric acid is high-school chemistry. In this reaction intense heat is released which helps in turning sugar into carbon without external heating. But this process is not well controlled and the resultant carbon does not have uniform micro-structure and catalytic prowess," explained Dr. Atul Suresh Deshpande, assistant professor at the IIT-H.
In order to control the microstructure of carbon during the exothermic dehydration of sugar, the researchers added common salt. Salt helps in controlled dehydration of sugar, which leads to the formation of carbon nanoplates - plate-like structures that are a hundred thousand times smaller than the human hair. Not only is this nanostructure important because of the large surface area, but the surface is also covered by sulfonate groups that makes it an active catalyst.
"Due to the low cost of precursors with practically zero energy input and simplicity of reaction, this process of producing carbons nanoplates can be easily adapted for large-scale commercial production.," added Prof Sunil Kumar Maity.
This development is important for India, especially for States such as Uttar Pradesh and the two Telugu states the largest producers of corn in the country. The large amount of corncob waste, can now be converted to fuels and would trigger the cascade of additional earning opportunity for the corn-farmer, provision of a sustainable energy source and reduction of carbon footprint in the automobile/aviation sector.
The researchers believe that this novel approach can be further modified to obtain not just carbon nanoplates but also other types of nanostructured carbon materials that are useful in other commercial applications.