Think small. No, really, really small. Okay, now think even smaller yet. If you’re not down to particles so small they have their own name, nanoparticles (because they are just a few BILLIONTHS of a yard in diameter), you might be missing the latest breakthrough that could be key in future green diesel production. This story from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Ames Laboratory says researchers there have created a faster, cleaner refining technology that not only combines processes, it uses widely available materials to reduce costs.
Ames Laboratory scientists have developed a nanoparticle that is able to perform two processing functions at once for the production of green diesel, an alternative fuel created from the hydrogenation of oils from renewable feedstocks like algae.
The method is a departure from the established process of producing biodiesel, which is accomplished by reacting fats and oils with alcohols.
“Conventionally, when you are producing biodiesel from a feedstock that is rich in free fatty acids like microalgae oil, you must first separate the fatty acids that can ruin the effectiveness of the catalyst, and then you can perform the catalytic reactions that produce the fuel,” said Ames Lab scientist Igor Slowing. “By designing multifunctional nanoparticles and focusing on green diesel rather than biodiesel, we can combine multiple processes into one that is faster and cleaner.” Contrary to biodiesel, green diesel is produced by hydrogenation of fats and oils, and its chemical composition is very similar to that of petroleum-based diesel. Green diesel has many advantages over biodiesel, like being more stable and having a higher energy density.
More details about the process are available in the ACS Catalysis article, “Bifunctional Adsorbent-Catalytic Nanoparticles for the Refining of Renewable Feedstocks,” and the Journal of Catalysis article, “Supported Iron Nanoparticles for the Hydrodeoxygenationof Microalgal Oil to Green Diesel.”