A research team from IIT Guwahati has formulated efficient “pincer” catalytic systems that transform industrial/biomass wastes into valuable chemicals. Tiny amounts of these “pincer catalysts” repeatedly convert large amounts of industrial waste such as glycerol into lactic acid and hydrogen. Such catalysts also efficiently convert bioethanol, a low-energy density fuel into high-energy density butanol.
The conversion of valuable intermediates such as glycerol and ethanol, produced during the processing of biomass, into industrially useful chemicals has elicited much interest worldwide. Glycerol, for example, is a by-product in biodiesel production and can be transformed into lactic acid and hydrogen, the former used extensively in food, pharmaceutical, cosmetic and polymerindustries, and the latter in the energy sector. Likewise, ethanol obtained from biomass can be converted into high quality fuel. While bioethanol has lower energy density than gasoline and corrodes engine parts when used directly, it can be transformed into higher energy butanol that is immiscible in water and noncorrosive in nature. The conversion of glycerol and ethanol into such useful products hinges on the development of efficient catalysts that can bring about these transformations.
“Pincer catalysts are complex molecules in which, an organic moiety holds on tightly to a metal core, much like the claws of a crab,” explains Dr. Akshai Kumar, adding that such an arrangement not only confers stability to the catalyst, but also selectivity to bring about the intended transformations. This catalyst is active over several thousand cycles without loss in efficiency.
The findings have recentlyappeared inthe Royal Society of Chemistry journals, Chemical Communications and Catalysis Science & Technology. The research team plans to take these bench-scale reactions to pilot-plant scale and ultimately to the commercial level with industrial collaboration.
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