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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.]

Clariant to scale-up catalysts for Gevo’s Ethanol-to-Olefins (ETO) technology; renewable diesel and hydrogen

May 19, 2016

Gevo, Inc. has entered into an agreement with Clariant Corp., one of the world’s leading specialty chemical companies, to develop catalysts to enable Gevo’s Ethanol-to-Olefins (ETO) technology.

Gevo’s ETO technology, which uses ethanol as a feedstock, produces tailored mixes of propylene, isobutylene and hydrogen, which are valuable as standalone molecules, or as feedstocks to produce other products such as diesel fuel and commodity plastics, that would be drop-in replacements for their fossil-based equivalents. ETO is a chemical process, not a biological process as is Gevo’s conversion of biomass to isobutanol.

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Researchers synthesize first ruthenium nanoframes; potential for better catalysts

April 02, 2016

A team of chemists, led by Xiaohu Xia from Michigan Technological University, has developed an effective method based on seeded growth and chemical etching for the facile synthesis of ruthenium (Ru) nanoframes (NFs) with high purity for use as effective catalysts. A paper on their work is published in the ACS journal Nano Letters

Although this marks the first synthesis of ruthenium nanoframes, the break-through is not limited to this one metal. Xia says the process the team developed is more important.

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New energy-efficient process for direct conversion of biomass without pretreatment to liquid hydrocarbon fuels

April 01, 2016

A team from The University of Manchester and East China University has developed a process for the direct hydrodeoxygenation of raw woods into liquid alkanes with mass yields up to 28.1 wt% over a multifunctional Pt/NbOPO4 catalyst in cyclohexane.

The superior performance of the catalyst allows simultaneous conversion of cellulose, hemicellulose and, more significantly, lignin fractions in wood sawdust into hexane, pentane and alkylcyclohexanes, respectively. An open-access paper on their work is published in the journal Nature Communications.

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SLAC, U Toronto team develops new highly efficient ternary OER catalyst for water-splitting using earth-abundant metals; >3x TOF prior record-holder

March 25, 2016

Scientists from the Department of Energy’s SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory and the University of Toronto have developed a new type of ternary catalyst for the oxygen evolution reaction (OER) in water-splitting that exhibits a turnover frequency (TOF) that’s more than three-times above the TOF and mass activities of optimized control catalysts and the state-of-art NiFeOOH catalyst.

The research, published in the journal Science, outlines a potential way to make a future generation of water-splitting catalysts from three abundant metals—iron (Fe), cobalt (Co) and tungsten (W)—rather than the rare, costly metals on which many of today’s catalysts rely. The gelled FeCoW oxy-hydroxide material exhibits the lowest overpotential (191 mV) reported at 10 mA per square centimeter in alkaline electrolyte. Further, the ternary catalyst showed no evidence of degradation following more than 500 hours of operation.

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Double catalyst for the direct conversion of syngas to lower olefins

March 21, 2016

The light olefins ethylene, propylene, and butylene—usually made from petroleum—are key building blocks for chemical industry, and are starting materials for making plastics, synthetic fibers, and coatings. In the journal Angewandte Chemie, Chinese scientists report on a new bifunctional catalyst that converts syngas to lower olefins (C2-C4) with high selectivity. This could make it more attractive to make olefins from alternative sources of carbon, such as biomass, natural gas, or coal.

The design of bifunctional catalysts could result in further breakthroughs in developing one-step processes for selective production of fuels and chemicals such as gasoline, diesel, and aromatics from synthesis gas.

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Kyushu University research group develops new method for creating highly efficient gold nanoparticle catalysts for fuel cells

March 15, 2016

A team of researchers at Kyushu University’s International Institute for Carbon-Neutral Energy Research (I2CNER) reports devising a method for using a new type of catalyst support for highly active gold nanoparticle catalysts for fuel cells. An open access paper on the work is published in Scientific Reports.

In the search for non-platinum electrocatalysts for fuel cells, gold nanoparticles (Au-NPs) have attracted a great deal of interest due to their very high catalytic activity for the oxygen reduction reaction (ORR), despite the inertness of bulk gold. Further, small-sized Au-NPs have been shown to have excellent tolerance to methanol oxidation—meaning that methanol poisoning can be ignored, an ideal attribute for practical applications, especially in the cathode in the direct methanol alkaline fuel cells.

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Government of Alberta awarding $10M to SBI Bioenergy for production of drop-in hydrocarbon fuels; funds from carbon levy

March 10, 2016

Using revenue from the price Alberta’s large emitters pay for releasing greenhouse gases, the Climate Change and Emissions Management Corporation (CCEMC) has earmarked a $10-million contribution for Alberta-based SBI BioEnergy to support a $20-million facility for the demonstration-scale production of drop-in, renewable diesel, jet and gasoline fuels from plant oils and waste fats.

With this investment, SBI will be able to produce 10 million liters (2.6 million gallons US) of renewable diesel fuel annually. This support works in concert with Alberta’s Renewable Fuels Standard which requires commercial fuel producers to blend renewable products into their fuels. SBI’s facility strengthens Alberta’s expanding industrial bio-product sector and gives Alberta farmers a new market for off-grade canola.

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German team doubles activity of water electrolysis catalysts for H2 production with monolayer of copper on platinum

A team from the Ruhr-Universität Bochum, Technische Universität München and Universiteit Leiden has doubled the catalytic activity of electrodes for water electrolysis by applying a monolayer of copper the platinum electrodes. The resulting electrodes are the most active electrocatalysts ever reported for the HER (hydrogen evolution reaction) in acidic media under comparable conditions, to the best of their knowledge, wrote the authors in an open-access paper in the journal Nature Communications.

Only about 4% of global hydrogen production is via water electrolysis, according to a 2012 analysis (Bičáková and Straka). The main impediments to a wider commercialization are the high energy losses in electrolyzers due to the insufficient activity of state-of-the-art electrodes.

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Argonne and Los Alamos national laboratories partner to find alternative to platinum in hydrogen fuel cells; Electrocatalysis Consortium

March 02, 2016

Researchers at the US Department of Energy’s (DOE) Argonne and Los Alamos national laboratories have teamed up to support a DOE initiative through the creation of the Electrocatalysis Consortium (ElectroCat), a collaboration devoted to finding an effective but cheaper alternative to platinum in hydrogen fuel cells. ElectroCat is one of four consortia that make up DOE’s new Energy Materials Network (EMN). (Earlier post.)

About half of the total cost of a typical automotive fuel cell stack comes directly from the cost of the platinum metal in the electrode catalysts. ElectroCat is dedicated to finding new ways to replace rare and costly platinum group metals in fuel cell cathodes with more accessible and inexpensive substitutes such as materials based on the earth-abundant metals iron and cobalt.

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Process for production of jet-range hydrocarbons from crude Jatropha oil using hydrogen produced in-situ from formic acid

February 16, 2016

A team at the Korea Institute of Energy Research has developed a catalytic process for the production of jet-range oxygen-free hydrocarbons from crude Jatropha oil, using hydrogen produced in-situ from formic acid.

In a fixed bed reaction using a mixture of crude Jatropha oil and formic acid, normal hydrocarbon in the range of C10–C18 (mostly C15 and C17) was the main product—about 97% in the liquid product—and the degree of deoxygenation was about 99.5%. A paper on their work is published in the journal Fuel.

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USC team develops highly efficient catalyst system for converting CO2 to methanol; 79% yield from CO2 captured from air

February 03, 2016

Researchers at Loker Hydrocarbon Research Institute and Department of Chemistry, University of Southern California, have developed a highly efficient homogeneous Ru-based catalyst system for the production of methanol (CH3OH) from CO2 and H2 in an ethereal solvent (initial turnover frequency = 70 h−1 at 145 °C).

In a paper published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society, they reported demonstrating for the first time that CO2 captured from air can be directly converted to CH3OH in 79% yield using the new homogeneous catalytic system.

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IMP develops new material to remove nitrogen compounds from crude oil for more efficient desulfurization

The Mexican Oil Institute (IMP) has developed a catalyst adsorbent material that removes 80% of organic compounds from crude oil prior to hydrodesulfurization. It allows Pemex, the Mexican oil company, to generate ultra-low sulfur diesel (ULSD) more quickly and cheaply. Dr. Rodolfo Mora, head of the project, said that the research was initiated by Pemex’ need to convert its diesel from 500 parts per million (ppm) of sulfur to 15 ppm ULSD.

Its use in a preliminary process will increase the life of the catalyst for up to 30 months over current standards by avoiding high temperatures and pressures during operation in the reactor.

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GM Ventures portfolio company SDCmaterials secures 1st supply agreement for cost-saving advanced catalyst products for autos

January 28, 2016

SDCmaterials, a developer of advanced catalyst products based on a novel materials fabrication and integration platform, announced a partnership and formalized a supply agreement with Car Sound, a leading manufacturer of catalysts and catalytic converters for the automotive aftermarket. Investors in SDCmaterials include the venture capital arms of General Motors, Volvo Group, and SAIC Motor as well as BASF Venture Capital.

The automotive catalytic converter, developed in the early 1970s primarily by General Motors and BASF/Engelhard and first deployed in 1975, changes exhaust pollutants into CO2, water vapor and nitrogen. The performance of existing catalyst technology degrades over time as precious metal particles agglomerate and surface area diminishes. SDC’s proprietary technology can both increase surface area of a given quantity of precious metal and reduce its agglomeration over time.

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Cost-effective iron-nitrogen-doped graphene fuel-cell catalyst approaches performance of platinum

January 27, 2016

Teams at Helmholtz Zentrum Berlin (HZB) and TU Darmstadt have produced a cost-effective fuel-cell catalyst material consisting of iron-nitrogen complexes embedded in tiny islands of graphene only a few nanometers in diameter. The FeN4 centers provide excellent catalytic efficiency, approaching that of platinum.

For their synthesis process, they devised a simple and feasible way to reduce the contribution of inorganic metal species in the catalyst material—in some cases even down to zero. The presence of inorganic species interferes with the oxygen reduction reaction (ORR) activity of metal and nitrogen-doped carbon catalysts. A paper on their work is published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society.

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Ballard receives follow-on order from Nisshinbo for development of fuel cell catalyst; targeting 70% reduction in platinum loading

January 21, 2016

Ballard Power Systems has received a follow-on purchase order from Nisshinbo Holdings Inc. for a further phase of a Technology Solutions program related to the development of a breakthrough catalyst technology intended to reduce the cost of certain proton exchange membrane (PEM) fuel cells. The program, now entering its seventh phase, has been underway for approximately 2.5 years. (Earlier post.)

In a PEM fuel cell, the membrane electrode assembly (MEA) is formed by placing a catalyst coated membrane between two flow field plates. When hydrogen gas flows across one side of the MEA and oxygen moves across the other side an electrochemical (non-combustion) reaction occurs, splitting hydrogen into protons and electrons. The electrons are captured as electricity. Combining fuel cells together to form multi-layer stacks increases the amount of electricity that can be produced.

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New high-activity, low-cost nickel-based catalyst for fuel cells exhibits performance similar to Pt; hydroxide exchange membrane fuel cells

January 15, 2016

Researchers at the University of Delaware, with a colleague at the Beijing University of Chemical Technology, have developed a composite catalyst—nickel nanoparticles supported on nitrogen-doped carbon nanotubes—that exhibits hydrogen oxidation activity in alkaline electrolyte similar to platinum-group metals. An open access paper on their work is published in the journal Nature Communications.

Although nitrogen-doped carbon nanotubes are a very poor hydrogen oxidation catalyst, as a support, they increase the catalytic performance of nickel nanoparticles by a factor of 33 (mass activity) or 21 (exchange current density) relative to unsupported nickel nanoparticles, the researchers reported. Owing to its high activity and low cost, the catalyst shows significant potential for use in low-cost, high-performance fuel cells, the team suggested.

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BESC study finds unconventional bacteria could boost efficiency of cellulosic biofuel production

January 14, 2016

A new comparative study by researchers at the Department of Energy’s BioEnergy Science Center (BESC), based at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, finds the natural abilities of unconventional bacteria could help boost the efficiency of cellulosic biofuel production.

A team of researchers from five institutions analyzed the ability of six microorganisms to solubilize potential bioenergy feedstocks such as switchgrass that have evolved strong defenses against biological and chemical attack. Solubilization prepares the plant feedstocks for subsequent fermentation and, ultimately, use as fuel.

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IU scientists create self-assembling biocatalyst for the production of hydrogen; modified hydrogenase in a virus shell

January 04, 2016

Scientists at Indiana University have created a highly efficient self-assembling biomaterial that catalyzes the formation of hydrogen. A modified hydrogenase enzyme that gains strength from being protected within the protein shell (capsid) of a bacterial virus, this new material is 150 times more efficient than the unaltered form of the enzyme.

The material is potentially far less expensive and more environmentally friendly to produce than other catalytic materials for hydrogen production. The process of creating the material was recently reported in the journal Nature Chemistry.

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NREL research advances photoelectrochemical production of hydrogen using molecular catalyst

December 21, 2015

Researchers at the Energy Department’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) have made advances toward affordable photoelectrochemical (PEC) production of hydrogen. A paper on their work is published in Nature Materials.

The PEC process uses solar energy to split water into hydrogen and oxygen. The process requires special semiconductors, the PEC materials and catalysts to split the water. Previous work used precious metals such as platinum, ruthenium and iridium as catalysts attached to the semiconductors. A large-scale commercial effort using those precious metals wouldn’t be cost-effective, however.

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New catalytic process to convert lignin into jet-range hydrocarbons

December 11, 2015

Researchers at Washington State University (WSU) Tri-Cities have developed a catalytic process to convert corn stover lignin into hydrocarbons (C7–C18)—primarily C12–C18 cyclic structure hydrocarbons in the jet fuel range. The work is featured on the cover of the December issue of the RSC journal Green Chemistry.

The developer of the process, Bin Yang, an associate professor of biological systems engineering at WSU and his team are working with Boeing Co. to develop and test the hydrocarbons targeted to be jet fuel. Yang has filed for a patent on the process, with WSU as the assignee.

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High-performance, cost-effective nanoparticle electrocatalyst for fuel cells outperforms commercial Pt/C catalyst

December 09, 2015

Scientists at Korea’s Institute for Basic Science’s (IBS’) Center for Nanoparticle Research and colleagues at other institutions in Korea have synthesized highly durable and active intermetallic ordered face-centered tetragonal (fct)-PtFe nanoparticles (NPs) coated with a “dual purpose” N-doped carbon shell as fuel cell electrocatalysts.

The ordered fct-PtFe/C nanocatalyst coated with an N-doped carbon shell shows 11.4 times-higher mass activity and 10.5 times-higher specific activity than commercial Pt/C catalyst. Moreover, the team demonstrated long-term stability in the membrane electrode assembly (MEA) for 100 hours without significant activity loss. A paper on their work is published in theJournal of the American Chemical Society.

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UMass Amherst computationl chemist to optimize zeolite biofuel production catalysts; more gasoline, less coke

University of Massachusetts Amherst computational chemist Scott Auerbach has been awarded a three-year, $330,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to improve basic understanding and optimize the catalytic process of producing fuels such as gasoline from plant biomass instead of from petroleum.

The study involves theoretical calculations aimed at understanding the complex catalysis involved in converting biomass-derived organic compounds to liquid fuel precursors in the confined spaces of zeolites while avoiding deactivation due to coke formation. Auerbach will employ a novel theoretical approach and benchmark it against experimental data.

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Researchers develop alkali- and sulfur-resistant tungsten-based catalysts for SCR NOx control

December 07, 2015

Researchers at Fudan University, with colleagues at the University of Jinan and Chongqing University, have developed alkali- and sulfur-resistant tungsten-based catalysts for SCR NOx emissions control. A paper on their work is published in the ACS journal Environmental Science & Technology.

Alkali metals and sulfur oxides are two kinds of the well-known poisons of catalysts used in the selective catalytic reduction (SCR) of NOx with NH3 from both stationary and mobile sources. At the 2015 AIChE Annual Meeting in Houston last month, Yasser Jangjou and William Epling presented a paper on sulfur poisoning of the SCR reaction, noting that sulfur is a common automotive catalyst poison even for the newer metal-exchanged small pore zeolite selective catalytic reduction (SCR) catalysts.

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Researchers improve efficiency of ethanol-to-butanol conversion with new bifunctional catalyst

December 04, 2015

Researchers at the University of Rochester and the University of Ottawa (Canada) have developed a highly selective (>99%) tandem catalytic system—a bifunctional iridium catalyst coupled with bulky nickel or copper hydroxides—for the conversion of ethanol (up to 37%) to n-butanol, through the Guerbet process.

The team was able to increase the amount of ethanol converted to butanol by almost 25% over currently used methods without producing unwanted byproducts. A paper describing the new system is published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society.

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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

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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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