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October 12, 2001

Brookhaven Lab and DuPont Develop New Catalysts to Convert Renewable Feedstocks to Useful Industrial Materials

picture of chemicalsUPTON, NY — The U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Brookhaven National Laboratory and DuPont’s Central Research and Development Department in Wilmington, Delaware, have developed a new class of catalysts that could someday convert plant-derived feedstocks, or raw materials, into industrially useful materials, such as chemicals and synthetic fibers. This research is described in the October 12 issue of the German journal Angewandte Chemie.

“This is an early step in a long-term goal to develop new ways to make chemicals and fibers,” said Morris Bullock, Brookhaven’s principal researcher in the project.

Industrial chemicals and fibers like nylon are traditionally derived from petroleum-based feedstocks, which are nonrenewable and add atmospheric carbon dioxide to the environment. In contrast, biomass-based feedstocks are mainly derived from plants. At a time when oil prices continue to increase, these plant-based products may offer an economically advantageous, energy-saving, environmentally friendly alternative for DuPont and other chemical and synthetic-fiber manufacturers.

Brookhaven National Laboratory's Morris Bullock (right) and Prasenjit Ghosh prepare for an experiment to test a new class of catalysts that they developed with DuPont for converting renewable feedstocks to useful industrial materials.

The Brookhaven/DuPont collaboration used a ruthenium-based catalyst to accelerate the removal of oxygen from diols — organic compounds commonly found in plants that contain compounds of hydrogen, oxygen and carbon. Selective removal of oxygen converts diols into alcohols, which are used for making industrial materials.

The researchers hope to use this deoxygenation method on more complex compounds such as glucose for converting organic plant material into chemicals for application in large-scale industrial processes.

Dupont’s goal is to derive 25 percent of its revenues in 2010 from renewable raw materials, like carbohydrates. Paul Fagan, principal researcher on the project at DuPont, said, “This research is a starting point to develop improved industrially important catalysts for key transformations of biomolecules. We realize there is much more work to be done on these catalysts, but this is the kind of chemistry that will help DuPont meet its goal.”

Research is continuing to improve the activity of the new catalysts so that they become attractive for industrial use. Two patent applications have been filed on the catalysts.

This work was carried out under a three-year Cooperative Research and Development Agreement. It was funded by DuPont and DOE’s Office of Science, Laboratory Technology Research Program. The fundamental research and development at Brookhaven that formed the foundation for this collaboration was funded by DOE’s Office of Basic Energy Sciences, Division of Chemical Sciences.

DuPont is a science company, delivering science-based solutions that make a difference in people’s lives in food and nutrition; health care; apparel; home and construction; electronics; and transportation. Founded in 1802, the company operates in 70 countries and has 85,000 employees.
The U.S. Department of Energy's Brookhaven National Laboratory conducts research in the physical, biomedical, and environmental sciences, as well as in energy technologies. Brookhaven also builds and operates major facilities available to university, industrial, and government scientists. The Laboratory is managed by Brookhaven Science Associates, a limited liability company founded by Stony Brook University and Battelle, a nonprofit applied science and technology organization.