Researcher Discovers New Method for Obtaining Biofuel Catalyst from Aluminium Foil


A revolutionary new method for converting used aluminium foil into a catalyst for the production of biofuel has been developed by a researcher at Queen’s University Belfast in Northern Ireland.

Ahmed Osman, an Early Career Researcher from Queen’s University’s School of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering, led a team of engineers in developing a method for obtaining 100 percent pure single crystals of aluminium salts from waste foil. Such crystals are used as the building blocks for preparing an alumina catalyst that is used in converting methanol to dimethyl ether that is more effective than the catalyst currently being used. As dimethyl ether is considered among the most promising biofuels developed so far, the implications of this breakthrough could be significant.

In addition, the new catalyst is around half the cost of the current catalyst, and as 20,000 metric tons of aluminium foil is thrown away each year in the UK alone, obtaining raw materials for this new catalyst is significantly easier, considering that the current catalyst can only be obtained from raw bauxite ore.

“I have always been inspired by Chemistry and I believe that catalysis especially can make the world a better place,” said Osman. “One day I took a walk through our laboratories at Queen’s and found lots of Aluminium foil waste so I did a little digging and after speaking to my colleagues, I ran my experiment and was astonished by the ultrapure single crystals – I didn’t expect it to be 100% pure.

“At Queen’s, our scientists and engineers often work hand in hand on common challenging problems for the society. By using our joint expertise, we have been able to tackle the issue of sustainable development and come up with a research solution which lies in an area between chemistry and chemical engineering.”

“This breakthrough is significant as not only is the alumina more pure than its commercial counterpart, it could also reduce the amount of aluminium foil going to landfill while also sidestepping the environmental damage associated with mining bauxite,” he concluded.

Osman says he hopes to continue research into the catalyst and its possible applications in commercializing biofuels or developing new catalytic converters for natural gas engines using the new alumina catalyst.

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