A new catalytic process discovered by the Cardiff Catalysis Institute could
unleash a range of useful new byproducts from diesel fuel production.
More sustainable production of sulphur-free diesel from natural gas and
biomass is increasing. However the byproducts, hydrocarbons like decane and
other low value alkanes, have little practical use.
Now a discovery by the Institute, part of the School of Chemistry,
has found a potential route for upgrading these byproducts into more useful
In the past, synthetic reactions starting from alkanes like decane have been
fraught with difficulty. They tend either to over-dehydrogenate or to combust,
depending on whether oxygen is present in the reaction. Now a Cardiff Catalysis
Institute team has reported the use of a mixed-metal catalyst to convert decane
to a range of oxygenated aromatics.
The breakthrough, published in Nature Chemistry, came when the team
fed a gas mixture of decane and air through an iron molybdate catalyst. At
higher temperatures, the reaction formed water and decene, which is used in the
production of detergents. At lower temperatures, however, the reaction took a
different route to create oxygenated aromatic molecules. These included
phthalic anhydride, used in the dyeing industry, and coumarin which helps in
the production of anti-coagulant drugs.
Professor Stan Golunski, a member of the Institute team behind the discovery
said: “This discovery breaks new ground as it implies the involvement of
oxygen that has not yet made the full transition from its molecular form to its
ionic form. This overturns a widely held view that this type of oxygen was too
reactive to form anything other than carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide in
reactions with hydrocarbons.”
“While the increased production of sulphur-free diesel has been a
positive move, the glut of low value byproducts will become a problem. We hope
our new process will lead to less waste and the creation of more useful
chemicals for a range of industries.”