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[Due to the increasing size of the archives, each topic page now contains only the prior 365 days of content. Access to older stories is now solely through the Monthly Archive pages or the site search function.]

Queen’s University Belfast researchers synthesize “porous liquid”; applications in more efficient chemical processes

November 12, 2015

Scientists at Queen’s University Belfast, Northern Ireland, UK, have synthesized a porous liquid with the potential for application in a wide range of new, more efficient and greener chemical processes including carbon capture.

The researchers in the School of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering at Queen’s, along with colleagues at the University of Liverpool, UK, and other international partners, found that the new liquid can dissolve unusually large amounts of gas, which are absorbed into “holes” in the liquid. The results of their research are published in the journal Nature.

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ORNL team discovers mechanism behind direct ethanol-to-hydrocarbon conversion; implications for energy efficiency and cost of upgrading

November 04, 2015

Researchers at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) have discovered that the reactions underlying the transformation of ethanol into higher-grade hydrocarbons unfolds in a different manner than previously thought.

The research, supported by DOE’s BioEnergy Technologies Office (BETO), has implications for the energy efficiency and cost of catalytic upgrading technologies proposed for use in bio-refineries. Uncovering the mechanism behind the reaction helps support the potential economic viability of ORNL’s own direct biofuel-to-hydrocarbon conversion approach. An open-access paper on their findings is published in Nature Scientific Reports.

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Atomic cobalt on nitrogen-doped graphene catalyst shows promise to replace platinum for hydrogen production

October 21, 2015

The Rice lab of chemist James Tour and colleagues at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, the University of Texas at San Antonio and the University of Houston have developed a robust, solid-state catalyst that shows promise to replace expensive platinum for hydrogen generation.

The new electrocatalyst, based on very small amounts of cobalt dispersed as individual atoms on nitrogen-doped graphene (Co-NG), is robust and highly active in aqueous media with very low overpotentials (30 mV). In an open-access paper published in Nature Communications, the researchers suggested that the unusual atomic constitution of supported metals is suggestive of a new approach to preparing extremely efficient single-atom catalysts.

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Linde pilot testing dry reforming process to generate syngas from CO2 and methane for production of fuels and chemicals

October 16, 2015

As part of its R&D strategy, Linde has built a pilot reformer facility at Pullach near Munich—Linde’s largest location worldwide—to test dry-reforming technology. The dry reforming process catalytically combines CH4, the principal component of natural gas, and CO2 to produce syngas (CO and H2). Syngas is then used to produce valuable downstream products such as base chemicals or fuels.

The dry reforming process differs from steam reforming, which combines CH4 and water (H2O) in the form of steam to produce the syngas. Producing the steam is energy-intensive; dry reforming requires far less water, and hence avoids the energy burden of steam production. In addition to reducing energy consumption, the dry reforming process also consumes recycled carbon dioxide.

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Sandia team boosts hydrogen production activity by molybdenum disulfide four-fold; low-cost catalyst for solar-driven water splitting

October 07, 2015

A team led by researchers from Sandia National Laboratories has shown that molybdenum disulfide (MoS2), exfoliated with lithiation intercalation to change its physical structure, performs as well as the best state-of-the-art catalysts for the hydrogen evolution reaction (HER) but at a significantly lower cost. An open access paper on their study is published in the journal Nature Communications.

The improved catalyst has already released four times the amount of hydrogen ever produced by MoS2 from water. To Sandia postdoctoral fellow and lead author Stan Chou, this is just the beginning: “We should get far more output as we learn to better integrate molly with, for example, fuel-cell systems,” he said.

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New Pd-based nanomaterial catalyst breaks down formic acid to H2; boost for practical chemical H2 storage

September 24, 2015

Researchers at Japan’s National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology have developed a simple method for producing a palladium-based nanomaterial that can spur the breakdown of formic acid (FA) into hydrogen and carbon dioxide. Its efficiency far exceeds that of any other reported heterogeneous catalyst, they say. They also found that their process produced carbon dioxide and hydrogen without carbon monoxide contamination, which has been a problem with other methods.

In a paper in the Journal of the American Chemical Society, they suggest that the results open up new avenues in the effective applications of FA for hydrogen storage, including on-board storage for fuel cell vehicles.

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New ORNL non-precious metal catalyst shows promise as low-cost component for low-temperature exhaust aftertreatment

September 23, 2015

Researchers at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) have developed a ternary mixed oxide catalyst composed of copper oxide, cobalt oxide, and ceria (dubbed “CCC”) that outperforms synthesized and commercial platinum group metal (PGM) catalysts for CO oxidation in simulated exhaust streams while showing no signs of inhibition—i.e., the clogging of the catalyst by NOx, CO and HC.

PGM catalysts are the current standard for emissions aftertreatment in automotive exhaust streams. However, in addition to their high cost, PGM catalysts struggle with CO oxidation at low temperatures (<200 °C) due to inhibition by hydrocarbons in exhaust streams. The new ORNL catalyst shows great potential as a low-cost component for the low temperature exhaust streams that are expected to be a characteristic of future automotive systems, the researchers noted in their paper in the journal Angewandte Chemie.

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SLAC’s new electron camera visualizes ripples in 2-D material; support for future solar cells, electronics and catalysts

September 10, 2015

New research led by scientists from the Department of Energy’s SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory and Stanford University reveals how individual atoms move in trillionths of a second to form wrinkles on a three-atom-thick material. Visualized by a new “electron camera,” one of the world’s speediest, this unprecedented level of detail could guide researchers in the development of efficient solar cells, fast and flexible electronics and high-performance chemical catalysts.

As described in a paper published in the ACS journal in Nano Letters, the study was made possible with SLAC’s instrument for ultrafast electron diffraction (UED), which uses energetic electrons to take snapshots of atoms and molecules on timescales as fast as 100 quadrillionths of a second.

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DLR-led NEMESIS 2+ project develops compact direct steam reformer for diesel/biodiesel to H2

September 02, 2015

The European NEMESIS 2+ consortium has and successfully tested a pre-commercial on-site system for the production of hydrogen from diesel and biodiesel. The prototype system—the size of a shipping container—can be integrated into existing infrastructure with relative ease.

The prototype, built by the Dutch project partner HyGear, produces 4.4 kilograms of hydrogen from 20 liters of biodiesel per hour—this roughly corresponds to the fuel tank of a B-Class F-cell vehicle. The efficiency of the process, from start to finish, is approximately 70%. (Original project goals were 50 Nm3/h, or 4.5 kg/h with an efficiency >80%.) The EU NEMESIS 2+ project, which ran until June 2015, was coordinated by the German Aerospace Center (DLR).

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EERC working with Fuel Cell Energy on $3.5M ARPA-E project for electrochemical cell to convert natural gas to methanol

August 29, 2015

The University of North Dakota Energy & Environmental Research Center (EERC) is working with FuelCell Energy, Inc., an integrated stationary fuel cell manufacturer, to develop a durable, low-cost, and high-performance electrochemical cell to convert natural gas and other methane-rich gas into methanol, a major chemical commodity with worldwide applications in the production of liquid fuels, solvents, resins, and polymers.

The US Department of Energy Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA-E) awarded $3,500,000 to the project, led by Fuel Cell Energy, as part of its REBELS (Reliable Electricity Based on ELectrochemical Systems) program. (Earlier post.) The project is directed at developing an intermediate-temperature fuel cell that would directly convert methane to methanol and other liquid fuels using advanced metal catalysts.

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Argonne researchers develop new non-precious-metal fuel cell catalyst with performance comparable to platinum

August 27, 2015

Researchers at the US Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory have developed a new fuel cell catalyst using earth-abundant materials with performance that is comparable to platinum in laboratory tests. The nanofibrous non-precious metal catalyst (NPMC) is synthesized by electrospinning a polymer solution containing a mixture of ferrous organometallics and metal-organic frameworks and then is thermally activated.

The resulting catalyst offers a carbon nanonetwork architecture made of microporous nanofibers decorated by uniformly distributed high-density active sites. As reported in an open access paper in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), in a single-cell test, the membrane electrode containing the catalyst delivered volumetric activities of 3.3 A⋅cm−3 at 0.9 V or 450 A⋅cm−3 extrapolated at 0.8 V, representing the highest reported value in the literature. The team also observed improved fuel cell durability.

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Laser-burned graphene could replace platinum as fuel cell catalyst

August 21, 2015

Researchers at the Tour Lab at Rice University developed an improved cost-effective approach using direct laser scribing to prepare graphene embedded with various types of metallic nanoparticles. The resulting metal oxide-laser induced graphene (MO-LIG) is highly active in electrochemical oxygen reduction reactions with a low metal loading of less than 1 at%. As such, it could be a candidate to replace expensive platinum in catalysts for fuel cells and other applications.

In addition, the researchers noted in their open access paper published in ACS Nano, the nanoparticles can vary from metal oxide to metal dichalcogenides through lateral doping, making the composite active in other electrocatalytic reactions such as hydrogen evolution.

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NSF funds new center for advanced 2-D coatings; energy conversion and storage

August 13, 2015

A new NSF-funded Industry/University Collaborative Research Center (I/UCRC) at Penn State and Rice University will study the design and development of advanced coatings based on two-dimensional (2D) layered materials to solve fundamental scientific and technological challenges that include: corrosion, oxidation and abrasion, friction and wear, energy storage and harvesting, and the large-scale synthesis and deposition of novel multifunctional coatings.

The Center for Atomically Thin Multifunctional Coatings, (ATOMIC), is one of more than 80 Industry/University Cooperative Research Program centers established by the National Science Foundation (NSF) to encourage scientific collaboration between academia and industry. It is the only NSF center dedicated to the development of advanced 2-D coatings.

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Argonne team finds copper cluster catalyst effective for low-pressure conversion of CO2 to methanol with high activity

August 07, 2015

Researchers at Argonne National Laboratory have identified a new material to catalyze the conversion of CO2 via hydrogenation to methanol (CH3OH): size-selected Cu4 clusters—clusters of four copper atoms each, called tetramers—supported on Al2O3 thin films.

In a study published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society, the team measured catalytic activity under near-atmospheric reaction conditions with a low CO2 partial pressure, and investigated the oxidation state of the clusters using in situ grazing incidence X-ray absorption spectroscopy. Results indicated that size-selected Cu4 clusters are the most active low-pressure catalyst for catalytic conversion of CO2to methanol; Density functional theory calculations revealed that Cu4 clusters have a low activation barrier for the conversion. The results suggest, they concluded, that small copper clusters may be excellent and efficient catalysts for the recycling of released CO2.

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NSF to award up to $4.8M to research projects in catalysis and biocatalysis

July 26, 2015

The National Science Foundation (NSF) Division of Chemical, Bioengineering, Environmental, and Transport Systems (CBET) has issued a new $4.8-million funding opportunity announcement (PD 15-1401) to advance research in catalytic engineering science and to promote the development of beneficial catalytic materials and reactions.

Research in the Catalysis and Biocatalysis program should focus on new basic understanding of catalytic materials and reactions, utilizing synthetic, theoretical, and experimental approaches. Target applications include fuels; specialty and bulk chemicals; environmental catalysis; biomass conversion to fuels and chemicals; conversion of greenhouse gases; and generation of solar hydrogen; as well as efficient routes to energy utilization.

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Georgia Tech ultra-thin hollow nanocages could significantly reduce platinum use in fuel cell electrodes

July 24, 2015

A team led by researchers at Georgia Tech has developed a new fabrication technique to produce platinum-based hollow nanocages with ultra-thin walls that could significantly reduce the amount of the costly metal needed to provide catalytic activity.

Use of these nanocage structures in fuel cell electrodes could increase the utilization efficiency of the platinum electrocatalyst by a factor of as much as seven, potentially changing the economic viability of the fuel cells. The work also involved researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison; Oak Ridge National Laboratory; Arizona State University; and Xiamen University in China. The process is described in a paper in the journal Science.

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New non-metallic molecular catalyst system approaches efficiency of platinum in fuel cell oxygen reduction reaction

July 17, 2015

A team of chemists from the University of Wisconsin-Madison has demonstrated a new molecular (i.e., non-metallic) catalyst system for the fuel cell oxygen reduction reaction (ORR) that approaches the efficiency of platinum. Although molecular catalysts have been explored before, earlier examples were much less efficient than the traditional platinum catalyst. An open access paper on their work is publishedin the journal ACS Central Science.

The new catalyst is composed of a mixture of nitroxyls and nitrogen oxides. These molecular partners play well together; one reacts well with the electrode while the other reacts efficiently with the oxygen.

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New operando technique shows atomic-scale changes during catalytic reactions in real-time; applications for batteries and fuel cells

June 30, 2015

A new technique developed by a team of researchers led by Eric Stach at Brookhaven National Laboratory and Anatoly Frenkel at Yeshiva University reveals atomic-scale changes during catalytic reactions in real time and under real operating conditions. An open access paper on the work is published in the journal Nature Communications.

The team used a new microfabricated catalytic reactor to combine synchrotron X-ray absorption spectroscopy and scanning transmission electron microscopy for an unprecedented portrait of a common chemical reaction. The results demonstrate a powerful operando—i.e., in a working state—technique that is generalizable to quantitative operando studies of complex systems using a wide variety of X-ray and electron-based experimental probes. This may have a tremendous impact on research on catalysts, batteries, fuel cells, and other major energy technologies.

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Stanford team develops new low-voltage single-catalyst water splitter for hydrogen production

June 23, 2015

Researchers at Stanford University have developed a new low-voltage, single-catalyst water splitter that continuously generates hydrogen and oxygen. An open access paper describing the synthesis and functionality of the bi-functional non-noble metal oxide nanoparticle electrocatalysts appears in the journal Nature Communications.

In the reported study, the new catalyst achieved 10 mA cm−2 water-splitting current at only 1.51 V for more than 200 h without degradation in a two-electrode configuration and 1 M KOH—better than the combination of iridium and platinum as benchmark catalysts.

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EBI ketone condensation process for drop-in jet fuel or lubricant base oil from biomass; up to 80% lifecycle GHG savings

June 16, 2015

Researchers at the Energy Biosciences Institute (EBI), a partnership led by the University of California (UC) Berkeley that includes Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and BP, have developed a new method for producing drop-in aviation fuel as well as automotive lubricant base oils from sugarcane biomass. The strategy behind the process could also be applied to biomass from other non-food plants and agricultural waste that are fermented by genetically engineered microbes, the researchers said.

The catalytic process, described in an open-access paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), selectively upgrades alkyl methyl ketones derived from sugarcane biomass into trimer condensates with better than 95% yields. These condensates are then hydro-deoxygenated into a new class of cycloalkane compounds that contain a cyclohexane ring and a quaternary carbon atom. These cycloalkane compounds can be tailored for the production of either jet fuel, or automotive lubricant base oils, resulting in products with superior cold-flow properties, density and viscosity that could achieve net life-cycle greenhouse gas savings of up to 80%, depending upon the optimization conditions.

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Northwestern-led team develops hydrogenation catalyst selective for carcinogen benzene; cleaner gasoline

June 09, 2015

A team from Northwestern University, with colleagues from UOP LLC, a Honeywell Company; Universita’ degli Studi di Roma “La Sapienza”; Argonne National Laboratory; and Ames Laboratory has developed a new hydrogenation catalyst that is highly selective for benzene, an aromatic—and known carcinogen—that is part of conventional gasoline.

The new catalyst could cost-effectively remove benzene from the other aromatic compounds in gasoline, making it cleaner but without eliminating other aromatics; aromatics in gasoline are used to improve gas octane numbers and fuel efficiency. An open access paper on their work is published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society.

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UT Austin team achieves best reported full-cell hybrid Li-air battery cycling with new ordered catalyst

June 05, 2015

Cycling performance of the hybrid Li− air batteries with (top) ordered Pd3Fe/C air electrode and (bottom) conventional Pt/C air electrode. Credit: ACS, Cui et al. Click to enlarge.

A team from the University of Texas at Austin led by Professor John Goodenough has achieved significantly enhanced activity and durability for the oxygen reduction reaction under alkaline conditions in a hybrid Li-Air battery using a new ordered Pd3Fe/C catalyst. The new catalyst exhibits much higher activity and durability than disordered Pd3Fe/C, Pd/C, and Pt/C.

As reported in a paper in the Journal of the American Chemical Society, the new ordered Pd3Fe/C catalyst enables long-term cycling performance of hybrid Li−air batteries over 880 hours (220 cycles) with only a 0.08 V increase in round-trip overpotential. The extraordinarily high performance of ordered Pd3Fe/C catalyst provides a very promising alternative to the conventional Pt/C catalyst for an air cathode in alkaline electrolyte, they concluded.

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Delivery of renewable isooctane to Audi tips interesting potential non-biomass pathway for biogasoline; “e-benzin” as solar fuel

May 26, 2015

Last week, Audi and its partner Global Bioenergies announced that the first batch of renewable isooctane—which Audi calls “e-benzin”—using Global Bioenergies’ fermentative isobutene pathway (sugar→isobutene→isooctane) had been produced and presented to Audi by Global Bioenergies. (Earlier post.)

Global Bioenergies, founded in 2008, has developed a synthetic isobutene pathway that, when implanted in a micro-organism, enables the organism to convert sugars (e.g., from starch and biomass) via fermentation into gaseous isobutene via a several-stage enzymatic process. However, following the delivery of the first renewable isooctane, Reiner Mangold, Audi’s head of sustainable product development, said that Audi was “now looking forward to working together with Global Bioenergies on a technology allowing the production of renewable isooctane not derived from biomass sources”—i.e., using just water, H2, CO2 and sunlight.

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Ballard to move to next phase of PEM fuel cell catalyst development project with Nisshinbo

Ballard Power Systems has received a purchase order from Nisshinbo Holdings Inc. for the next phase of Technology Solutions project work related to the development of a breakthrough catalyst technology intended to reduce manufacturing cost of certain proton exchange membrane (PEM) fuel cells. The project has now been underway for approximately 2 years.

Nisshinbo is an energy company providing low-carbon, optimized products across a range of business lines, including chemicals, precision instruments, electronics, automotive brakes, textiles and paper. Nisshinbo has supplied Ballard with compression molded bipolar flow field plates for more than 10-years, for use in the manufacture of PEM fuel cell membrane electrode assemblies (MEAs) used in various market applications.

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Platinum-chromium alloy outperforms platinum as fuel cell catalyst

May 25, 2015

A team from Germany reports that a 40 wt% Pt3Cr/C alloy fuel cell catalyst shows enhanced activity under both half-cell and full-cell conditions as well as excellent corrosion stability compared to those of the 40 wt% Pt/C benchmark catalyst.

As presented at the Meeting of the Electrochemical Society earlier this month, in half-cell experiments at 2 mA cm−², the Pt3Cr/C catalyst exhibited 10 mV less over-potential and two-fold higher specific and mass activity for the ORR (oxygen reduction reaction) than Pt/C. The average particle size grew from 4.5 nm up to “only” 6–8 nm after 7000 degradation cycles. By comparison, the average particle size of Pt/C increased from 4.5 up to 10–30 nm.

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Researchers use X-ray nanotomography to identify key mechanisms of FCC catalyst aging; could lead to more efficient gasoline production

May 19, 2015

Scientists at Utrecht University and the US Department of Energy’s SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory have used X-ray nanotomography to identify key mechanisms of the aging process of catalyst particles that are used to refine crude oil into gasoline. This advance could lead to more efficient production of gasoline. (Tomography reconstructs a sliceable, virtual 3D copy of an object under study from 2D images.)

Their recent experiments studied fluid catalytic cracking (FCC) particles that are used to break heavy long-chain hydrocarbon fractions in crude oil into lighter, more valuable hydrocarbons such as gasoline and propylene. During FCC, the heavy hydrocarbons are vaporized and cracked into short-chain fractions by billions of tiny, fairly spherical catalyst particles with diameters ranging from 50–150 µm. FCC particles account for 40-45% of worldwide gasoline production.

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Toyota reports new real-time observation method sets stage for more efficient, durable fuel cell stacks

May 18, 2015

Toyota Motor Corporation and Japan Fine Ceramics Center (JFCC) have developed a new observation technique that allows researchers to monitor the behavior of nanometer-sized particles of platinum during chemical reactions in fuel cells, so that the processes leading to reduced catalytic reactivity can be observed in real-time.

The aim of the new technique is to identify the behavior, conditions and materials that make platinum catalyst nanoparticles critical to fuel cell efficiency and longevity prone to “coarsening”, with the accompanying degradation of capability. The new real-time observation technique could lead to a new generation of more efficient and durable fuel cell stacks, Toyota suggested. Toyota researchers will present the technique and their findings at the upcoming 2015 JSAE Annual Congress (Spring).

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Review of research suggests inconclusive support for fuel consumption benefits of catalyzed EGR

Conflicting evidence does not support making a firm conclusion on the fuel consumption benefit of catalysed Exhaust Gas Recirculation (EGR), according to a review of current studies by a team at the University of Bath (UK). In catalyzed EGR, a catalyst alters the chemical composition of the exhaust gas mix before its reintroduction to the engine. As an example, one study found a decrease in fuel consumption of up to 2%, while another found an increase of 1.5%-3.5%.

According to the review, the conversion of HCs, CO, and NO in the exhaust gas by the catalyst can result in up to a 4.5% reduction (in extreme cases) in the calorific value of the charge for catalyzed EGR when compared to equivalent operation with un-catalyzed EGR; this reduction in calorific value has a negative impact on the achievable BSFC. An open access paper on the study (an update of an earlier version published late last year) appears in the International Journal of Engine Research.

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US-China team develops new class of catalyst superior to platinum for H2O splitting and H2 generation

May 11, 2015

Potential sweeps caused substantial activity degradation for the Pt catalyst, but nearly no activity change for the NiAu/Au catalyst. Credit: ACS, Lv et al.. Click to enlarge.

A team from Brown University, Wuhan University of Technology (China), Cal State University Northridge and Harbin Institute of Technology (China) has developed a new catalyst for a highly efficient hydrogen evolution reaction based on core/shell NiAu/Au nanoparticles (NPs).

In their paper, published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society, the researchers go on to suggest that their approach is not limited to NiAu but can be extended to FeAu and CoAu as well, providing a general approach to MAu/Au NPs as a class of new catalyst with platinum-like activity and much superior durability for water splitting and hydrogen generation.

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Lund researchers develop optimized two-phase enzymatic process for production of biodiesel

April 06, 2015

Researchers at Lund University (Sweden) have developed an optimized two-phase enzymatic (lipase) system for the conversion of plant oils to biodiesel. Applied to the solvent-free ethanolysis of rapeseed oil, the system delivered a yield of 96% under mild conditions. Under the mild conditions used, chemical catalysts were inefficient. An open access paper on their work is published in the journal Biotechnology for Biofuels.

The current predominant method for the transesterification of triglycerides (plant and animal oils and fats) to biodiesel (a mixture of esters) uses chemical catalysts (sodium or potassium hydroxides or alkoxides). Despite its predominance, there are several drawbacks with this approach, including the need to remove inorganic salt in the downstream process; the high temperature required; and undesirable side reactions. Further, these systems are inefficient when a high free fatty acid (FFA) content is present in the starting material, thus restricting the use of conventional chemical pathways to a highly pure feedstock. An alternative approach is the use of immobilized lipase-catalyzed transesterification in the presence of an organic solvent.

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New Rutgers non-noble metal catalyst for hydrogen evolution performs as well as Pt in both acid and base

March 22, 2015

Researchers at Rutgers University have developed a new noble metal-free catalyst—Ni5P4 (nickel-5 phosphide-4)—performing on par with platinum for the hydrogen evolution reaction (HER) in both strong acid and base. The development, the team concludes in a paper published in the RSC journal Energy & Environmental Science, can offer a key step towards industrially relevant electrolyzers competing with conventional H2 sources.

Currently, renewable hydrogen may be produced from water by electrolysis with either low efficiency alkaline electrolyzers that suffer 50–65% losses, or by more efficient acidic electrolyzers using expensive rare platinum group metal catalysts (Pt). Consequently, the authors noted, research has focused on developing alternative, cheap, and robust catalysts made from earth-abundant elements.

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New bimetallic copper-titanium hydrogen evolution catalyst outperforms platinum by more than 2x

March 17, 2015

Modeling study showing possible bimetallic sites on a Ti-modified Cu surface. The two Cu-Cu-Ti hollow sites exhibit HBE values close to that of Pt. The Cu-Ti-Ti hollow site binds hydrogen too strongly. Lu et al. Click to enlarge.

A team from the University of Delaware and Columbia University, with colleagues at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, reports that a new hierarchical nanoporous copper-titanium bimetallic electrocatalyst is able to produce hydrogen from water under a mild overpotential at more than twice the rate of state-of-the-art carbon-supported platinum catalyst. An open-access paper on their work is published in the journal Nature Communications.

Although copper and titanium are poor hydrogen evolution catalysts by themselves, the combination of the two creates unique copper-copper-titanium hollow sites which have a hydrogen-binding energy (HBE) very similar to that of platinum, resulting in an exceptional hydrogen evolution activity, the team found. In addition, the hierarchical porosity of the nanoporous​copper-titanium catalyst provides a large-surface area for electrocatalytic hydrogen evolution, and improves the mass transport properties. Further, the catalyst is self-supported, eliminating the overpotential associated with the catalyst/support interface.

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Highly efficient nickel-iron/nickel foam electrode for OER in water-splitting

Researchers from the University of New South Wales (Australia) have developed a highly efficient electrode for the oxygen evolution reaction (OER) in water-splitting that has the potential to be scaled up for industrial production of hydrogen. An open-access paper on their work is published in the journal Nature Communications.

Create by the electrodeposition of amorphous mesoporous nickel–iron composite nanosheets directly onto macroporous nickel foam substrates, the OER electrode exhibits high catalytic activity towards water oxidation in alkaline solutions, which only requires an overpotential of 200 mV to initiate the reaction, and is capable of delivering current densities of 500 and 1,000 mA cm−2 at overpotentials of 240 and 270 mV, respectively. The electrode also shows prolonged stability against bulk​water electrolysis at large current.

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DOE to award up to $35M to advance fuel cell and hydrogen technologies; fuel cell range extenders

March 03, 2015

The US Department of Energy (DOE) announced (DOE-FOA-0001224) up to $35 million in available funding to advance fuel cell and hydrogen technologies, and to enable early adoption of fuel cell applications, such as light duty fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs). (Earlier post.)

As FCEVs become increasingly commercially available, the Energy Department is focused on reducing the costs and increasing technical advancements of critical hydrogen infrastructure including production, delivery, and storage. This Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA) covers a broad spectrum of the Fuel Cell Technology Office (FCTO) portfolio with areas of interest ranging from research and development (R&D) to demonstration and deployment projects.

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Rice graphene aerogel catalyst doped with boron and nitrogen outperform platinum in fuel cell ORR

March 02, 2015

Graphene nanoribbons formed into a three-dimensional aerogel and doped with boron and nitrogen (3D BNC NRs) exhibit the highest onset and half-wave potentials among the reported metal-free catalysts for the oxygen reduction reaction (ORR) in alkaline fuel cells, and show superior performance compared to commercial Pt/C catalyst, according to a new study by Rice University researchers.

A team led by materials scientist Pulickel Ajayan and chemist James Tour made metal-free aerogels from graphene nanoribbons and various levels of boron and nitrogen to test their electrochemical properties. In research reported in the ACS journal Chemistry of Materials, they reported that versions with about 10 atom % boron and nitrogen were most efficient in catalyzing the ORR.

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Researchers demonstrate high performance and stability of non-precious metal ORR catalysts in acidic PEM fuel cells

March 01, 2015

Researchers at Case Western University led by Prof. Liming Dai have demonstrated that rationally designed, metal-free, nitrogen-doped carbon nanotubes and their graphene composites exhibit significantly better long-term operational stabilities and comparable gravimetric power densities with respect to the best non-precious metal catalyst (NPMC) in acidic polymer electrolyte membrane (PEM) fuel cells.

The researchers said that this work, which advances their earlier work on high- performance NPMCs for fuel cells (e.g., earlier post, earlier post), represents a major breakthrough in removing the bottlenecks to translate low-cost, metal-free, carbon-based ORR (oxygen reduction reaction) catalysts to commercial reality in affordable and durable fuel cells. An open-access paper on their work appears in the online journal Science Advances (an offspring of the journal Science).

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Northwestern team develops light-driven catalyst that can convert atmospheric nitrogen to ammonia under ambient conditions

February 23, 2015

Northwestern University scientists have developed a catalyst that can convert atmospheric nitrogen into ammonia under natural conditions. In a paper published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society, they report that chalcogels containing FeMoS inorganic clusters are capable of photochemically reducing N2 to NH3 under white light irradiation, in aqueous media, under ambient pressure and room temperature.

Although the catalyst, which mimics the biological enzyme nitrogenase, is approximately 1,000 times slower, it is very robust and offers, said inorganic chemist Mercouri G. Kanatzidis, who led the research, “a fantastic starting point. Now we are trying to figure out how this material works and how it can become faster. We’ve already made some progress in this direction.

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Toyota Central R&D exploring controlling catalysts at the quantum level for optimized performance and reduced costs

February 17, 2015

The Frontier Research Center (FRC) at Toyota Central R&D Labs in Japan is investigating the development of catalysts controlled at the quantum level. This level of control should result in an an extreme reduction of precious metal usage in automotive exhaust catalysts and/or fuel cells, said Dr. Yoshihide Watanabe, program manager of the Quantum Controlled Catalysis Program at the FRC.

Metal cluster chemistry (a cluster is a group of atoms or molecules formed by interactions varying in strength from very weak to strong) has been developing rapidly since the mid-20th century. Some naturally occurring clusters are known to be involved in catalytic reactions, and there is great interest in the potential use of synthetic clusters in industrial applications such as catalysis.

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New black silicon-supported catalyst for photoreduction of CO2 to methane

February 16, 2015

Researchers at the University of Toronto have developed a catalyst comprising of black silicon nanowire supported ruthenium ( Ru/SiNW) for the photochemical and thermochemical reduction of gaseous CO2 to methane (methanation) in the presence of hydrogen under solar-simulated light. An open access paper on their work is published in the new journal Advanced Science.

The Ru/SiNW catalysts activated the Sabatier reaction at a rate of 0.74 mmol g−1 h−1 under 14.5 suns intensity of solar-simulated irradiation in a hydrogen atmosphere at 15 psi and a H2:CO2 ratio of 4:1. The team suggested that much higher reaction rates could be achieved by optimizing the dispersion of the Ru over the SiNW support.

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SLAC X-ray laser provides first glimpse of a chemical bond being born; implications for more efficient chemistry

February 13, 2015

Scientists have used an X-ray laser at the Department of Energy’s SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory to get the first glimpse of the transition state where two atoms begin to form a weak bond on the way to becoming a molecule. This fundamental advance, reported in Science and long thought impossible, will have a profound impact on the understanding of how chemical reactions take place and on efforts to design reactions that generate energy, create new products and fertilize crops more efficiently.

The experiments took place at SLAC’s Linac Coherent Light Source (LCLS), a DOE Office of Science User Facility. Its brilliant, strobe-like X-ray laser pulses are short enough to illuminate atoms and molecules and fast enough to watch chemical reactions unfold in a way never possible before. The researchers used LCLS to study the CO oxidation reaction—the same reaction that neutralizes carbon monoxide (CO) from car exhaust in a catalytic converter.

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Rice, Minnesota scientists use predictive modeling to identify optimized zeolites to aid ethanol, petroleum production

January 23, 2015

Scientists at Rice University and the University of Minnesota have identified, through a large-scale, multi-step computational screening process, promising zeolite structures for two energy-related applications: the purification of ​ethanol from fermentation broths and the hydroisomerization of alkanes with 18–30 carbon atoms encountered in petroleum refining.

The results, presented in a paper published in Nature Communications, demonstrate that predictive modeling of synthetic zeolites—a technique pioneered by Rice bioengineer Michael Deem—and data-driven science can be applied to solve some of the most challenging problems facing industries that require efficient ways to separate or catalyze materials.

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Researchers devise method to produce jet-range hydrocarbons as co-product of production of algal biodiesel; role of alkenones

January 22, 2015

Isochrysis extraction and fractionation scheme with yields given in parentheses for the different products obtained from each step. Credit: ACS, O’Neil et al. Click to enlarge.

Researchers from Western Washington University and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution have developed a method to produce jet-fuel range hydrocarbons as a co-product of the production of algal biodiesel from the biomass of the industrially grown marine microalgae Isochrysis. A paper on their work is published in the ACS journal Energy & Fuels.

Certain species of algae—including Isochrysis—synthesize a unique class of lipids: long-chain (35-40 carbons) alkenones. The structure of alkenones is characterized by a very long liner carbon chain with trans double bonds and a methyl or ethyl ketone. The researchers developed a method for the isolation of pure alkenones from Isochrysis biomass in parallel with biodiesel production.

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HZB researchers characterize efficient manganese catalyst for artificial photosynthesis

Scientists at the Helmholtz Center for Materials and Energy (HZB) in collaboration with the School of Chemistry and ARC Centre of Excellence for Electromaterials Science at Monash University, Australia, have precisely characterized the electronic states of a manganese (Mn) water-splitting catalyst for artificial photosynthesis.

The team led by Professor Emad Aziz, head of the HZB Institute “Methods for Material Development“ and Professor Leone Spiccia from Monash University investigated the changes in the local electronic structure of the Mn  3d orbitals of a Mn catalyst derived from a dinuclear MnIII complex during the water oxidation cycle using X-ray absorption spectroscopy (XAS) and resonant inelastic X-ray scattering (RIXS) analyses.

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NCSU team develops catalyst for thermal hybrid water-splitting and syngas generation with exceptional conversion; H2 gas and liquid fuels

January 19, 2015

Researchers at North Carolina State University have developed a highly effective new perovskite-promoted iron oxide redox catalyst for a hybrid solar-redox scheme they had proposed earlier for partial oxidation and water-splitting of methane.

In a paper published in the RSC journal Energy & Environmental Science, Feng He and Fanxing Li report that the new material—lanthanum strontium ferrite (La0.8Sr0.2FeO3-δ or LSF) supported Fe3O4—is capable of converting more than 67% steam with high redox stability. In contrast, previously reported ferrite materials typically exhibit 20% or lower steam to hydrogen conversion.

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BASF launches next-generation PremAir NXT catalytic coating technology for direct ozone reduction

January 14, 2015

BASF announced the commercial launch of PremAir NXT, a next-generation direct ozone reduction (DOR) catalytic coating technology for heat exchange surfaces such as radiators that can help automakers meet new US Tier 3 and California LEV III emissions reduction requirements.

When applied to such surfaces, the PremAir NXT solution converts harmful ground-level ozone—the main component of smog—into oxygen—i.e., it converts ground-level ozone already in the air. PremAir NXT builds on the success of BASF’s standard PremAir coating technology, providing increased durability and higher ozone conversion performance over the lifetime of a vehicle.

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New anode for direct ethanol fuel cells enables peak power and current densities approaching H2 PEM fuel cells

December 12, 2014

A team of researchers in Italy has developed a new palladium-doped anode for direct alcohol fuel cells that produces peak power and current densities (using ethanol at 80 °C) approaching the output of hydrogen-fed proton exchange membrane fuel cells (PEMFCs). A paper on their work is published in the RSC journal ChemSusChem.

Direct alcohol fuel cells (DAFCs), which belong to the family of alkaline fuel cells, are electrochemical devices that continuously convert the chemical energy of an alcohol fuel to electricity. Ethanol is becoming a desirable target fuel for use in DAFCs (i.e., a DEFC) because it offers higher energy density compared to methanol; less crossover rate (from the anode to cathode); and can be produced from agriculture and biomass products. In a 2006 paper (Mann et al.), researchers at Princeton observed that:

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Vertimass selected for negotiation for up to $2M from DOE for conversion of ethanol into gasoline, diesel and jet blendstocks; expanding the ethanol market (updated)

December 05, 2014

Ethanol conversion to hydrocarbons as a function of temp. at a LHSV of 2.93 h−1. Source: US 20140100404 A1. Click to enlarge.

Vertimass LLC has been selected for negotiation of an award to receive up to $2 million from the Bioenergy Technologies Office (BETO) within the US Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (earlier post) to support the commercialization of catalyst technology that converts ethanol into gasoline, diesel and jet fuel blend stocks, while retaining compatibility with the current transportation fuel infrastructure. (Earlier post.)

The technology—developed by Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s (ORNL) Chaitanya Narula, Brian Davison and Associate Laboratory Director Martin Keller and licensed exclusively by Vertimass—is expected to allow expansion of the ethanol market beyond current constraints. Existing US ethanol production plants currently have a capacity of approximately 14 billion gallons per year, a level that saturates current use as 10% blends with gasoline. However, the new Vertimass catalyst breaks that barrier by producing a hydrocarbon blend stock compatible in higher-level blends.

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New efficient catalytic system for the photocatalytic reduction of CO2 to hydrocarbons

December 04, 2014

Photocatalytic reduction products formed on various catalysts. The Au3Cu@STO/TiO2 array (red arrow) was the most reactive photocatalyst in this family to generate hydrocarbons from diluted CO2. Kang et al. Click to enlarge.

Researchers from Japan’s National Institute for Materials Science (NIMS) and TU-NIMS Joint Research Center, Tianjin University, China have developed a new, particularly efficient photocatalytic system for the conversion of CO2 into CO and hydrocarbons. The system, reported in a paper in the journal Angewandte Chemie, may be a step closer to CO2-neutral hydrocarbon fuels.

More than 130 kinds of photocatalysts have been investigated to catalyze CO2 reduction; of those, strontium titanate (SrTiO3, STO) and titania (TiO2) are two of the most investigated materials. The research team headed by Dr. Jinhua Ye decided to use both, and devised a heteromaterial consisting of arrays of coaxially aligned STO/TiO2 nanotubes.

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Novozymes launches commercial enzyme technology to convert waste oils into biodiesel

December 02, 2014

Novozymes has launched Eversa Transform, the first commercially available enzymatic solution (a liquid lipase) to convert both glycerides and free fatty acids (FFA) into biodiesel. Biodiesel producers can thereby use cooking oil or other lower grade oils as biodiesel feedstock, reducing their raw material costs. The resulting enzymatic biodiesel is sold to the same trade specification as biodiesel created through traditional chemical processing.

Growing demand for vegetable oil in the food industry has resulted in increased prices, causing biodiesel producers to search for alternative—and more sustainable—feedstocks. Most of the oils currently used in biodiesel production are sourced from soybeans, palm or rapeseed, and typically contain less than 0.5% free fatty acids (FFA). Existing biodiesel process designs have difficulty handling oils containing more than 0.5% FFA—i.e., waste oils with high FFAs have not been a viable feedstock option.

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Novel single-site gold WGS catalysts may offer pathway to lower-cost production of hydrogen, fuels and chemicals

A team of researchers from universities and national laboratories led by Tufts University has developed catalysts composed of a unique structure of single gold atoms bound by oxygen to several sodium or potassium atoms and supported on non-reactive silica materials. This single-site gold species is active for the low-temperature (< 200 °C) water-gas shift (WGS) reaction that produces hydrogen.

They thus have found that gold is similar to platinum in creating –O and –OH linkages with more than eight alkali ions and establishing an active site on various supports. This finding paves the way for using earth-abundant supports to disperse and to stabilize precious metal atoms with alkali additives for the WGS and potentially other fuel processing reactions. The result could be lower costs. A paper describing their work is now published in Science Express.

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UCLA researchers develop synthetic biocatalytic pathway for more efficient conversion of methanol to longer-chain fuels

November 18, 2014

Researchers at the UCLA Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science led by Dr. James Liao have developed a more efficient way to turn methanol into useful chemicals, such as liquid fuels, and that would also reduce carbon dioxide emissions. The UCLA team constructed a synthetic biocatalytic pathway that efficiently converts methanol under room temperature and ambient atmospheric pressures to higher-chain alcohols or other higher carbon compounds without carbon loss or ATP expenditure.

Building off their previous work in creating a new synthetic metabolic pathway for breaking down glucose that could lead to a 50% increase in the production of biofuels (earlier post), the researchers modified the non-oxidative glycolysis pathway to utilize methanol instead of sugar. An open-access paper on the research was published in the 11 Nov. edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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Purdue team demonstrates proof-of-concept of H2Bioil process; liquid fuel range hydrocarbons from biomass

November 17, 2014

H2Bioil concept. Venkatakrishnan et al. Click to enlarge.

Researchers at Purdue University report a proof-of-concept of a their novel consecutive two-step process (H2Bioil) for the production of liquid fuel range hydrocarbons (C4+) with undetectable oxygen content from cellulose and an intact biomass (poplar). (Earlier post.)

Purdue University filed a patent application on the H2Bioil concept, which is based on fast-hydropyrolysis and downstream vapor-phase catalytic hydrodeoxygenation (HDO), in 2008. The process adds hydrogen into the biomass-processing reactor and is made possible by development of a new catalyst and the innovative reactor design. Findings are described in a research paper published online in the RSC journal Green Chemistry.

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DOE 2014 Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Progress Report highlights substantial progress

November 13, 2014

The US Department of Energy (DOE) Fuel Cell Technologies Office (FCTO) has posted the 2014 edition of its annual Hydrogen and Fuel Cells Program Annual Progress Report—a nearly 1,000-page document. The report summarizes the reports provided each year by projects funded by DOE’s Hydrogen and Fuel Cells Program and offers additional information about recent Program accomplishments.

The Program engages in research, development, and demonstration (RD&D) of critical improvements in hydrogen and fuel cell technologies, as well as other activities to overcome obstacles to commercialization. The Program integrates basic and applied research, technology development and demonstration, and other supporting activities. Over the past year, said Dr. Sunita Satyapal, Director, FCTO, “the Program made substantial progress toward its goals and objectives.”

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