Univ. of Minnesota engineering researchers are leading an international team that has made a major breakthrough in developing a catalyst used during chemical reactions in the production of gasoline, plastics, biofuels, pharmaceuticals and other chemicals. The discovery could lead to major efficiencies and cost-savings in these multibillion-dollar industries.
“The impact of this new discovery is enormous,” says the team’s lead researcher Michael Tsapatsis, a chemical engineering and materials science professor in the Univ. of Minnesota College of Science and Engineering. “Every drop of gasoline we use needs a catalyst to change the oil molecules into usable gasoline during the refining process.” This research improves efficiencies by giving molecules fast access to the catalysts where the chemical reactions occur. Tsapatsis compared it to our use of freeways and side streets in our daily lives.
The research team built their prototype of the new catalyst using ultra-thin zeolite nanosheets. They used a unique process to encourage growth of these nanosheets at 90-degree angles, similar to building a house of cards. Image: Univ. of Minnesota