Researchers identify materials to improve biofuel and petroleum processing

Jan. 26, 2015 - Using one of the largest supercomputers in the world, a team of researchers, including Professor Ilja Siepmann (Department of Chemistry), Professor Michael Tsapatsis, graduate students Peng Bai and Mi Young Jeon, and postdoctoral researcher Limin Ren, has identified potential materials that could improve the production of ethanol and petroleum products. The discovery could lead to major efficiencies and cost savings in these industries.

Petrochemical and biofuel refineries use materials called zeolites that act as molecular sieves to sort, filter, and trap chemical compounds, as well as catalyze chemical reactions necessary to produce and upgrade fuel and chemical feedstock from petroleum-based and renewable resources. Unfortunately, synthesizing novel zeolites in the lab is a long, complicated process that can take many months each. Instead, researchers from the University of Minnesota and Rice University developed a complex computational screening process that can look at thousands of zeolites in the virtual world and identify their performance for specific applications. This reduces the need for trial and error experimentation in the lab.

The University of Minnesota has two patents pending on the research and hopes to license these technologies. The study was published in the research journal Nature Communications.

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