Biotech Updates

New Chemical Catalyst for Biofuel Production Revealed

October 17, 2012

A new chemical catalyst offering a more sustainable way to produce methanol--a promising source of biofuel, was introduced by the scientists from the University of Oxford and the Diamond Light Source. The traditional method of producing methanol from biomass is hugely energy-intensive, requiring high pressure and searing temperatures of 800 degrees Celsius for the biomass' cellulose to be broken down into syngas (synthetic gas).

The new catalyst avoids syngas intermediate. Instead, it will convert cellulose into ethylene glycol, the chemical in anti-freeze, which will then be transformed to methanol. The catalyst consists of an iron oxide base – or more colloquially, rusty iron – coated with palladium. When this catalyst was submerged in ethylene glycol the researchers observed 80% selectivity, meaning that four-fifths of the molecules produced were useable alcohols (methanol and ethanol). With further tweaking, the team hopes to increase that output to 100%.

See Diamond Light Source news release at