Neutrons optimise high efficiency catalyst for greener approach to biofuel synthesis
01 Sep 2021





​​​Illustration of the optimized zeolite catalyst (NbAlS-1), which enables a highly efficient chemical reaction to create butene, a renewable source of energy, without expending high amounts of energy for the conversion. Credit: ORNL/Jill Hemman.​


​Researchers have designed a catalyst that converts biomass into fuel sources with remarkably high efficiency, offering new possibilities for manufacturing advanced renewable materials. Neutron scattering experiments played a key role in determining the chemical and behavioural dynamics of the new zeolite catalyst NbAlS-1 to provide information for maximising its performance. 

The optimized catalyst converts biomass-derived raw materials into light olefins such as ethene, propene, and butene, which can then be used to make plastics and liquid fuels. Their study, published in Nature Materials, finds that the new catalyst has a yield of 99%, whilst requiring significantly less energy than its predecessors. 

Typically, the chemical conversion of the organic matter to smaller molecules requires a tremendous amount of energy. Investigating possibilities for a greener alternative, the team doped the catalyst by replacing the zeolite’s silicon atoms with niobium and aluminium. The substitution created a chemically unbalanced state that promotes bond activation and radically reduces the need for high temperature treatments. 

Related publication: “Quantitative production of butenes from biomass-derived γ-valerolactone catalysed by hetero-atomic MFI zeolite.” Nature Materials, 19, 86-93 (2020) DOI: 10.1038/s41563-019-0562-6 

Contact: Jones, Evan (STFC,RAL,ISIS)