Fuel and Nanotechnology

How can nanotechnology improve fuel availability?

Nanotechnology can address the shortage of fossil fuels such as diesel and gasoline by:

  • Making the production of fuels from low grade raw materials economical

  • Increasing the mileage of engines

  • Making the production of fuels from normal raw materials more efficient

Nanotechnology can do all this by increasing the effectiveness of catalysts. Catalysts can reduce the temperature required to convert raw materials into fuel or increase the percentage of fuel burned at a given temperature. Catalysts made from nanoparticles have a greater surface area to interact with the reacting chemicals than catalysts made from larger particles. The larger surface area allows more chemicals to interact with the catalyst simultaneously, which makes the catalyst more effective. This increased effectiveness can make a process such as the production of diesel fuel from coal more economical, and enable the production of fuel from currently unusable raw materials such as low grade crude oil.

Nanotechnology, in the form of genetic engineering, can also improve the performance of enzymes used in the conversion of cellulose into ethanol. Currently ethanol added to gasoline in the United States is made from corn, which is driving up the price of corn. The plan is to use engineered enzymes to break down cellulose into sugar, is fermented to turn the sugar into ethanol. This will allow material that often goes to waste, such as wood chips and grass to be turned into ethanol.

Fuel: Nanotechnology Applications under Development

Reducing the cost of converting crude from oil sands to fuel

Increasing mileage of diesel engines

Nanosphere based catalyst that reduces the cost of producing biodiesel

Modifying crops to allow cellulous material, such as corn stalks to produce enzymes that are triggered at elevated temperatures to convert the cellulous to sugar, simplify the production of ethanol.

Modifying bacteria to cause the production of enzymes that will convert cellulous material to ethanol in one step, rather than converting cellulous to sugar which is than fermented into ethanol.

Tungsten oxide nanoparticles on a material called zirconia used as a nanocatalyst  to make the process of refining gasoline more efficient.

Fuel Resources

The Energy Biosciences Institute, a collaboration between the University of California, Berkeley, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and British Petroleum.

The Process Intensification and Miniaturization (PIM) group at Newcastle University.

The National Bioenergy Center at the US National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

The Renewable Fuel Standard Program at the US Environmental Protection Agency.

The National Ethanol Vehicle Coalition Website has information to let you determine if your car is a Flex Fuel Vehicle and E85 refueling stations.

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