Squeezing Synthetic Oil From A Stone

Scientists in Japan have used a boron-based reaction to create synthetic oil at room temperature, paving the way for greener oil production.

AsianScientist (Oct. 19, 2020) – Researchers in Japan have developed a way to create synthetic oils without the use of heavy metals. Their findings have been published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society.

When it comes to high performance applications like engine lubricants or jet fuels, synthetic oils are preferred over products made from refined crude oil. For the last hundred years, synthetic oils have been made via the Fischer-Tropsch process, which uses hydrogen and either carbon monoxide or carbon dioxide. However, this process uses heavy metals such as iron and cobalt to mediate the reaction, and requires high-pressure environments and temperatures in excess of 200 degrees Celsius to work, which consumes a great deal of energy.

“We found a reaction similar to that of the Fischer-Tropsch process, but that proceeds without using any heavy metals,” said Professor Kyoko Nozaki of the University of Tokyo, Japan. “Instead we use reagent containing boron, which is a component of certain ores; this can work at ordinary room temperature.”

The reaction works by combining carbon molecules from either carbon monoxide or carbon dioxide into chains. This can only happen when the oxygen molecules are removed by a substance called a reducing agent. In the Fischer-Tropsch process ordinary hydrogen is used, but this boron system requires a more powerful substance based on lithium and hydrogen.

“Although we need a further breakthrough in order to make use of ordinary hydrogen, we hope to see research in this area accelerate since our reagent provides a completely new direction for reaction design,” said Nozaki. “If applied in industrial settings, we expect it could greatly reduce energy use.”

The article can be found at: Phanopoulos et al. (2020) Heavy-Metal-Free Fischer–Tropsch Type Reaction: Sequential Homologation of Alkylborane Using a Combination of CO and Hydrides as Methylene Source.


Source: University of Tokyo; Photo: Rodion Kutsaev/Unsplash.
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