Catalytic boost for cheaper biodiesel production

A global team comprising Assam-based scientists developed a superhydrophobic catalyst that can cut biodiesel cost from about $1.2 now to 37 cents per litre

Published - June 19, 2024 03:45 am IST - GUWAHATI

Image for representational purposes only.

Image for representational purposes only. | Photo Credit: Getty Images

GUWAHATI

A team of scientists from Assam, Odisha, China, and the United Kingdom have developed a water-repellent catalyst that can cut the cost of producing “environmentally benign” biodiesel substantially from the current levels.

The process of arriving at the “spherical superhydrophobic activated carbon catalyst” to withstand water by-product during the production of biodiesel – pursued as a substitute for diesel, an exhaustible fossil fuel – has been published in the latest issue of the peer-reviewed Advanced Functional Materials, a high impact journal of the international materials science community.

The authors of the study are Arpita Das, Kangkana Saikia, and Samuel Lalthazuala Rokhum of Southern Assam’s Department of Chemistry, National Institute of Technology (NIT) in Silchar, Chandrakanta Guchhait and Bimalendu Adhikari of NIT Rourkela in Odisha, Da Shi of the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom, and Hu Li of the Guizhou University in China.

Superhydrophobic catalysts, imitating the anti-wetting or water-repulsing properties of natural surfaces such as lotus leaves, are deemed crucial for their ability to prevent the poisoning of active sites by water, produced in situ or as a by-product.

“Our novel superhydrophobic catalyst can be a game-changer in the field of biodiesel production. It stands out because of unmatched robustness; it can withstand the water by-product during biodiesel production,” Dr. Rokhum told The Hindu.

“This means the catalyst remains highly effective and can be reused multiple times, making the catalytic process more efficient and cost-effective,” he said.

He further said the catalyst, derived from biomass (cellulose), is ecologically benign, abundant, and highly affordable. “This breakthrough has the potential to significantly reduce the cost of biodiesel production, making sustainable energy more accessible,” he added.

At present, the cost of biodiesel in India is about ₹100 or UD$1.2 per litre. Using the superhydrophobic activated carbon catalyst can bring down the cost to about 37 cents per litre. A litre of less fuel-efficient diesel costs at least ₹87 in India.

“Biodiesel is a key player in the quest for sustainable energy. Our innovative catalyst could pave the way for broader adoption and a greener future because it makes the production process more efficient, cost-effective, and environment friendly,” Dr. Rokhum, among the world’s top five scientists in the field of biodiesel, said.

This green synthesis strategy provides a sustainable method for biomass waste disposal and ultimately expands the utility of biochar as an alternative to graphene and carbon nanotubes, he explained.

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