A Japanese research team has created an environmentally friendly catalyst for producing biodiesel, an alternative fuel, from renewable sources. The new catalyst is mainly charred sugars.
Biodiesel production typically begins with vegetable oil and an alcohol. A catalyst converts these ingredients into fatty acid alkyl esters, the compounds that constitute biodiesel. The most widely used catalysts are bases, such as sodium hydroxide, that convert 98 percent of the starting materials into the esters.
Using a chemically basic catalyst, however, requires additional costly steps, says Michikazu Hara of the Tokyo Institute of Technology. The biodiesel must be neutralized with an acid and then purified of the basic catalyst's remains.
Hara's team set out to make a catalyst that could be more easily separated from the fuel. The starting material was either sucrose or glucose. The researchers burned a sugar at 400°C and then heated it in sulfuric acid at 150°C, whi