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RUDN chemist developed a new catalyst for “green” biofuels

RUDN chemist developed a new catalyst for “green” biofuels

A RUDN chemist has synthesized a catalyst for the production of gamma-valerolactone — an energy-intensive “green” biofuel. The catalyst based on zirconium dioxide and zeolite has shown high efficiency in converting the waste of wood plant materials — methyl levulinate — to gamma-valerolactone.

One of biofuel sources can be lignocellulose, which is obtained from agricultural waste and wood processing. Methyl levulinate can be firstly derived from lignocellulosic biomass, which is then converted into gamma-valerolactone on the basis of noble metal catalysts. Gamma-valerolactone has significant potential for high-calorific value liquid biofuel, which is compatible with traditional petroleum fuels, that is, it can be used for modern vehicles without major engine modifications. The high cost of catalysts containing platinum, palladium and ruthenium is one of the main obstacles to the mass production of this cheap biofuel. Therefore, chemists are trying to create catalysts based on available metals.

Rafael Luque, director of the scientific center of RUDN Joint Institute for Chemical Research, obtained a new catalyst from easily available substances — zeolite and zirconium dioxide. Zirconium is found in nature much more often than noble metals, and its extraction is simpler. 300 thousand tons of zirconium are extracted annually, compared to 20 tons per year for ruthenium. The chemists chose zeolites as a catalyst carrier, which consist of silicon, aluminum and oxygen. Zeolites are attractive materials for the preparation of nanocomposite materials and catalysts due to their open frame-cavity structure with various acid sites. By mechanochemical mixing of zirconium salt and zeolite, followed by heat treatment, the RUDN chemist and his colleagues managed to obtain a catalyst with zirconia nanoparticles.

“Absolutely, biofuels have a low profit margin based on their low market value and the design of optimum processes in terms of catalysts and methodologies is essential in order to achieve a positive techno-economic balance.”

The RUDN chemist tested a new catalyst in the hydrogenation reaction of methyl levulinate in a flow reactor in a proton solvent environment without using unsafe hydrogen gas. In the experiment, the catalyst showed high activity and selectivity in the target reaction of gamma-valerolactone formation. The authors also managed to reveal that the nature of zeolite and zirconium oxide nanoparticles play a different role in the hydrogenation mechanism. The acid sites of zeolite contribute to the formation of by-products, while the formation of gamma-valerolactone proceeds on zirconium oxide. Thus, the study is not only applied, but also fundamental. The authors of the article also emphasize that it is a flow reactor that allows to achieve a high yield of the product. Moreover, it is easier to control and manage conversion and selectivity. The selectivity in the course of the synthesis carried out by chemists reached 100% with a conversion of 50%.

The authors note that, in the future, the hydrogenation of methyl levulinate in a proton solvent environment using inexpensive zirconium-zeolite catalysts may become the basis of technological processes for converting lignocellulosic biomass into second-generation biofuel.

“It is still early to predict as it will depend on techno-economic analysis of different processes and technologies. In principle, the new catalyst is cheap, simple and easy to synthesize.”

The article is published in the journal Molecular Catalysis.

International scientific cooperation View all
03 Nov 2017
The main goal of the RUDN University and UNISDR Office for Northeast Asia and Global Education and Training Institute for Disaster Risk Reduction at Incheon (UNISDR ONEA-GETI) cooperation is to obtain knowledge about disaster risk reduction and international experience in this area for creating training courses for basic and additional professional education in RUDN
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Main Publications View all
15 Nov 2017
RUDN University scientists publish results of their scientific researches in highly-recognized in whole world and indexed in international databases journals (Web of Science, Scopus ect.). That, of course, corresponds to the high status of the University and its international recognition. Publications of June-September 2017 ( In Journals of categories Q1-Q3)
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30 Dec
Biologists from RUDN University discovered the secret of flaxseed oil with long shelf life

Biologists from RUDN University working together with their colleagues from the Institute of Molecular Biology of the Russian Academy of Sciences and the Institute of Flax studied the genes that determine the fatty acid composition in flaxseed oil and identified polymorphisms in six of them. The team also found out what gene variations could extend the shelf life of flaxseed oil. This data can be used to improve the genetic selection of new flax breeds. The results were published in the BMC Plant Biology journal.

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19 Apr
Dentists from RUDN University Presented a New Classification of Root Canal Shape Changes

Individual characteristics of the shape and cross-section of the root canal are one of the main issues for dentists. When treating a root canal, a doctor needs to properly clean it, fill it, and carry out a rebuilding procedure so that a canal is sealed. The first stage of endodontic treatment requires detailed knowledge of root canal anatomy. A team of dentists from RUDN University studied and classified various changes in root canal shapes. The new classification will help doctors avoid diagnostic errors, better select their tools, and treat patients more efficiently.

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19 Apr
A chemist from RUDN developed a green catalyst for pharmaceutical and industrial chemistr

Many production facilities (e.g. plastic manufacturers, pharma companies, and others) use nanocatalysts that contain palladium—an expensive component that is not sustainably produced. A chemist from RUDN University found a way to reduce palladium consumption and to make its manufacture more eco-friendly. He developed a catalyst based on a substance that comes from plant waste. Using his invention, manufacturers could cut palladium consumption in half. Moreover, new catalysts can be reused multiple times without any decrease in efficiency.

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