|A Lin Group nanosphere.|
Catilin, a start-up funded by Mohr Davidow Ventures, is seeking to commercialize a mesoporous silica nanosphere (MSN)-based catalyst developed by researchers at Iowa State University that could make the production of biodiesel less expensive, faster, and more flexible with respect to feedstock oils.
Victor Lin, an Iowa State University Professor of Chemistry, Program Director for the US Department of Energy’s Ames Laboratory and the inventor of the catalyst, said that the company’s goal over the next 18 months is to produce enough of the nanosphere catalysts to increase biodiesel production from a lab scale to a pilot-plant scale of 300 gallons per day.
The Lin Group at Iowa State is focused on developing chemical methods for the synthesis of multifunctionalized mesoporous materials for applications in biotechnology and catalysis areas—i.e., in areas such as controlled release drug delivery, gene transfection, and non-invasive neurotransmitter sensor design, as well as selective catalysis.
The group has designed strategies to control the porous structure, particle morphology, biocompatibility, and degree of functionalization of these materials.
Many researchers have taken advantage of the high surface area of mesoporous silicas as solid supports for their high catalytic activity. In contrast to using mesoporous silicas simply as an inert support with high surface area, we intend to exploit its unique porous structure as a new 3-D scaffold that, in a way, mimics the underlying design principle of enzyme active sites. Through multifunctionalization of the mesoporous surface in order to control and tune the density, spatial location/orientation of a variety of moieties, we aim to construct a new generation of catalysts whose selectivity and reactivity are dictated by a series of covalent and non-covalent interactions between the reactants and all the functionalities in the pores, and not by the particular structure of one catalytic group.—Victor Lin
For the biodiesel production application, the technology allows efficient conversion of vegetable oils or animal fats into fuel by loading Lin’s nanospheres with acidic catalysts to react with the free fatty acids and basic catalysts to react with the oils.
The technology replaces sodium methoxide in biodiesel production. That eliminates several production steps including acid neutralization, water washes and separations. All those steps dissolve the toxic catalyst so it can’t be used again.
Catilin’s nanospheres are solid, making them easier to handle. They can also be recovered from the chemical mixture and recycled, and they can be used in existing biodiesel plants without major equipment changes.
Lin said the catalyst has been under development for the past four years. Catilin will market the third generation of the catalyst—a version that’s much cheaper to produce than earlier, more uniform versions.
The technology was developed with the support of grants from the US Department of Agriculture, the US Department of Energy's Office of Basic Energy Sciences and Iowa’ Grow Iowa Values Fund. Patents for the technology are pending. Catilin has signed licensing agreements with Iowa State’s research foundation that allows the company to commercialize Lin’s catalyst technologies.
Lin said company leaders will have to decide whether the company will become a catalyst company, will work with partners to develop biodiesel plants or will produce its own biodiesel.
Victor Shang-Yi Lin research interests
“Acid-Base Mesoporous Calcia-Silica Catalysts for Cooperative Conversion of Bio-based Feedstocks into Biodiesel”; Victor S.-Y. Lin, Jennifer A. Nieweg, Carla Kern, Brian G. Trewyn, Jerzy W. Wiench, and Marek Pruski; Prepr. Symp. Am. Chem. Soc., Div. Fuel Chem., 2006, 51, 426-7