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Nanotechnology in fuel production

Research work is going on in various institutes to employ nanotechnology to produce alternate fuel.
Ethanol from biomass
A research program at Purdue University focuses on applying nanotechnology and principles of polymer science to improve processing of cornstalks to ethanol which is an important biofuel. The researchers are using nanoscience to break apart cornstalks into nanomaterials for easier and cheaper transport of biomass for ethanol production.
A research program at the University of Marseille focuses on the fabrication of enzymatic nano-particles that make the breakdown of ligno-cellulose or any kind of cellulose-rich biomass into a potential biofuel feedstock more efficiently.
These projects give “medium” benefit to the environment, given their ability to replace fossil fuel. However, the life cycle issues (that is, energy, carbon dioxide emissions, and chemical use) associated with these processing steps need to be considered in full.
Biodiesel from waste fats
At Iowa State University, researches developed a nanotechnology that accurately controls the production of tiny, uniformly shaped silica particles that can transform (waste) fats and oils into biodiesel efficiently. The particles are basically honeycombs of relatively large channels that can be filled with a catalyst that reacts with soybean oil to create biodiesel. The particles can also be loaded with chemical gatekeepers that encourage the soybean oil to enter the channels where chemical reactions take place. The results include faster conversion to biodiesel, a catalyst that can be recycled and elimination of the wash step in the production process.
The nanoparticles can also be used as a catalyst to efficiently convert animal fats into biodiesel by creating a mixed oxide catalyst that has both acidic and basic catalytic sites. Acidic catalysts on the particle can convert the free fatty acids to biodiesel while basic catalysts can convert the oils into fuel. And the particles themselves are environmentally safe because they are made of calcium and sand.

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