One of the issues in biofuel production has always been making it efficient. Various catalyst materials have been found to be very efficient, but short-lived. Under high-pressure, high-temperature, biofuel processing conditions, the catalysts start to break down and ruins their efficiency.
Scientists hope to answer this problem by creating microscopic “nanobowls” to protect the catalytic material.
“We needed a method to protect the catalysts without reducing their ability to function as desired during [biofuel refining],” Jeffrey Elam, principal chemist in Argonne National Laboratory’s [ANL] Energy Systems Division, says. “Our solution was to use atomic layer deposition [ALD], a process commonly employed by the semiconductor industry to lay down single-atom thick layers of material, to build a ‘nanobowl‘ around the metal particle [the catalyst].”
In the past, nanoparticles of platinum, iridium, or palladium have been used on a metal-oxide surface. To protect them from the heat and pressure, which would normally cause them to clump together, the new nanobowl structure is laid down atom by atom into the appropriate shape and size for the molecules of the specific biomass and biofuel they are working to synthesize.
Elam has proven in the laboratory that the new structure can survive the processing conditions, and is now working to ascertain its efficiency in real-world biofuel processing.