Catalyst may lead to more ethanol options

Aug 5, 2011

Ethanol may soon have more uses than just as a fuel additive. Researchers have accidentally discovered an easier, more environmentally friendly biofuel catalyst.

Researchers hope a new catalyst called isobutene will lead to more ways to use ethanol –- from making rubber to solvents to aviation fuel.

Currently isobutene is derived from petroleum, releasing carbon dioxide and depleting fossil fuels.

But during hydrogen fuel experiments, researchers at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland, Wash., stumbled upon a new way to produce isobutene from ethanol in just one step.

The lab's Yong Wang says the discovery will open new doors for ethanol.

"Opportunities pass by everyone on a daily basis," Wang says. "It's just whether you pay attention and grasp those opportunities."

Wang and other researchers are working to refine the process of making isobutene and improving its performance.

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