Catalytic process makes use of diesel by-products

A new catalytic process developed by researchers at Cardiff University could convert by-products of diesel production into more useful chemicals for industry.

While in the past, synthetic reactions starting from alkanes like decane have been fraught with difficulty, the University's Cardiff Catalysis Institute has reported the use of a mixed-metal catalyst to easily convert decane to a range of oxygenated aromatics. The breakthrough, published in the journal 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 finding 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 by-products 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."