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... And Nickel Sparks Ethanol-To-Olefins Conversion

by Stephen K. Ritter
July 4, 2011 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 89, Issue 27

By loading nickel onto a mesoporous silica support, a Japanese research team led by of Tokyo Institute of Technology has devised an improved catalyst to convert ethanol into olefin building blocks (ChemSusChem, DOI: 10.1002/cssc.201100168). Ethanol from renewable resources such as sugarcane has helped stretch gasoline supplies and cut carbon dioxide emissions. But instead of burning ethanol and reemitting CO2 into the atmosphere, converting the alcohol to olefins and then into plastics such as polyethylene or chemicals such as propylene oxide could provide longer term CO2 sequestration and help chemical companies reduce their dependence on petroleum, Iwamoto, Kouji Kasai, and Teruki Haishi suggest. Ethanol-to-olefins chemistry is not new, but existing zeolite and metal oxide catalysts have limited activity, limited selectivity for specific olefins, and a tendency to foul up quickly, they note. The Tokyo team discovered that nickel ion-loaded mesoporous silica (Ni-MCM-41) is an exceedingly fast and stable catalyst for making ethanol derivatives. Ethylene is the main product, but the researchers show that by adjusting the reaction temperature and ethanol feed rate, they can control the fraction of diethyl ether, acetaldehyde, propylene, and butylene produced.


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