Climate-friendly fuel supply
One possible alternative could be a fuel derived from biomass. Biomass is plant material that has not been altered by geological processes - unlike oil, coal or natural gas. When used, biomass releases only as much CO2 as it previously captured during plant growth.
In one research project, a team from EPFL has investigated how a liquid fuel for air transport could be produced from organic acids. The production of these organic acids from wood were subject of another sub-project.
EPFL researchers have also looked into wood biomass, as this has the potential to serve as an alternative carbon source for the production of carbon-based chemicals.
For the project, the team used catalytic processes to transform wood-based carboxylic acids to aircraft fuels and alpha-olefins. Olefins are among the most important basic materials in the chemical production of plastics and chemical intermediates.
During this process, the researchers discovered an abrupt change in selectivity. Selectivity is when one of several possible reaction products is preferentially formed in one reaction.
In this case, a sudden change in the selectivity – from olefins to mainly alkanes – was observed during the full conversion of the carboxylic acids. The knowledge of this phenomenon, which has not been observed before, can be used to control, for example, the proportion of alpha-olefins produced.