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IIT Jodhpur Researchers Design a Highly Effective Catalyst for Convert Waste to Transport fuel

 Summary of work

Fuel from waste is possible. Previously, converting organic waste to fuel was not economically feasible because it required very high temperatures and energy. Using a novel catalyst concept, Professor Rakesh K Sharma and his postdoctoral researcher Dr. Krishnapriya at the Indian Institute of Technology Jodhpur have now managed to significantly reduce the temperature and energy requirements of a key step in the chemical process in biofuel production. They have cleverly developed a catalytic system that has nanometre size cramped galleries in Silica-Alumina sheets (a refined form of clay). These confined galleries work as nanoreactor for catalytic reaction and convert the biomass to transport fuel under mild conditions. The process is under patent. The findings of this research have been published in two journals, (i) Journal cover page in prestigious RSC Journal Sustainable Energy & Fuels and (ii) Hot article in Fuel from Elsevier recently. The DBT, Govt of India has supported this study under the National Bioenergy Mission.



Biofuels are an important part of the far-reaching strategy to replace petroleum-based petrol and diesel, and jet fuels. However, biofuels have so far not reached cost equality with conventional petroleum fuels. One strategy to make biofuels more competitive is to use waste and biomass as a feed that coverts it in fuel, fertilizer, and value-added products at minimum energy consumption.  Considering these needs and inspired by nature, Prof. Sharma has developed many Rajasthani clay-based effective catalytic systems for difficult chemical processes under mind conditions. The ideas of development new catalyst generated from the geogenic and biological systems where enzymes with small cavities in their surface accelerate chemical processes drastically. He says, "While searching for suitable catalysts that accelerate the reaction, clay caught our eyes, which we have refined and modified to generate highly crystalline clay mineral with nanometer galleries, with atomically dispersed non-noble cobalt oxide. The reactions take place in these galleries under confined conditions comparable to those in enzyme pockets."

These confined quarters increase the reactivity amazingly when we compared with normal clays or other silica or alumina based catalysts. The reaction is extremely fast and takes place just around 250 degree temperature to give petroleum grade fuel. The nanometre galleries in silica-alumina improve the reaction path by creating more contact between biomass molecules and hydrogen on the cobalt oxide surface.  In this process, organic molecules such as sugars, bio-oil, algae, cellulose, and organic waste lose their oxygen to give hydrocarbon, a process called hydrodeoxygenation. The developed catalytic process makes the process suitable for converting bio-oil obtained from organic waste into transport fuel and opens doors of possibilities for biorefineries.