Catalyzing the conversion of biomass to biofuel

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In Germany, Technical University of Munich researchers found that water in zeolites saves energy in the conversion of biomass into biofuel by taking a closer look at the role of water molecules in reactions inside zeolite’s pores, which are less than one nanometer in size.

“If we are to do without fossil energy sources in the future and make efficient large-scale use of biomass, we will also have to find ways to reduce the energy required for processing the biomass,” says Johannes Lercher, professor for Chemical Technology at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) and Director of the Institute for Integrated Catalysis at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland, Washington (USA).

By systematically varying the size of the cavities, the density of the active sites and the amount of water, the research team was able to elucidate the pore sizes and concentrations of water which best catalyzed selected example reactions.

“Zeolites are generally suitable as nanoreactors for all chemical reactions whose reaction partners fit into the pores and in which an acid is used as a catalyst,” emphasizes Lercher. “We are at the very beginning of a development with the potential to increase the reactivity of molecules even at low temperatures and, thus, to save considerable amounts of energy in the production of fuels or chemicals.”