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IIT-H researchers use sugar, salt for carbon catalyst to produce biofuel precursors

(From left) Alekhya Kunamalla, Ph.D scholar, Prof. Sunil Kumar Maity, Dr. Atul Suresh Deshpande, Assistant Professor, and Damodar Devarakonda, Ph.D scholar.

(From left) Alekhya Kunamalla, Ph.D scholar, Prof. Sunil Kumar Maity, Dr. Atul Suresh Deshpande, Assistant Professor, and Damodar Devarakonda, Ph.D scholar.   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

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The researchers showed their catalyst had better efficiency than commercial catalysts.

In a development that could bring cheer to Indian farmers, researchers of Indian Institute of Technology-Hyderabad (IIT-H) have developed a simple method to synthesise a carbon catalyst that can convert chemicals derived from biomass into biofuel precursors.

The team has developed a novel process to produce carbon catalysts at room temperatures using simple materials — sugar, sulphuric acid and salt. The researchers showed their catalyst had better efficiency than commercial catalysts to produce the desired C15 oxygenated hydrocarbon, a precursor to diesel and jet fuel.

This development is important as States like Uttar Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh/Telengana, the first and second largest producers of corn in the country, respectively, produce a large amount of corncob waste. This can be converted into valuable fuel instead of being burnt.

The cheap and efficient catalyst developed by the institute can enable conversion into biofuel (fuel from biological sources rather than fossil fuels) and provide an additional earning opportunity for the corn farmer, besides being a sustainable energy source.

The research was led by Atul Suresh Deshpande, assistant professor, department of materials science and metallurgical engineering; Sunil Kumar Maity, department of chemical engineering and their students D. Damodar, K. Alekhya and V. Mohan. The research paper detailing the synthesis procedure and catalytic efficiency of the material produced was recently published in the reputed peer-reviewed journal ACS Sustainable Chemistry and Engineering.

“Dehydration of sugar by concentrated sulphuric acid is high school chemistry. Intense heat is released turning sugar into carbon in this reaction without external heating. But this process is not well-controlled and the resultant carbon does not have uniform micro-structure and catalytic prowess,” said Dr. Deshpande.

To control the microstructure of carbon during sugar dehydration, researchers added common salt, leading to formation of carbon nanoplates – plate-like structures 1,00,000 times smaller than human hair. These structures and surface area covered by sulphonate groups make it an active catalyst, added Dr. Maity.

This novel approach can be further modified to obtain other types of nanostructured carbon materials useful in many applications and can be easily adapted for large-scale commercial production, they said.

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Printable version | Dec 9, 2019 1:54:16 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/sci-tech/science/iit-h-researchers-use-sugar-salt-for-carbon-catalyst-to-produce-biofuel-precursors/article28758009.ece

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