RESEARCHERS have modified a method of hydrogen production to also produce ethyl acetate, a solvent commonly used in nail polish, circuit-board cleaning, and decaffeination of coffee and tea.
The team from Xiamen University in Fujian, China and the American Chemical Society (ACS) is using the traditional water-splitting method and a new catalyst to produce other high-value chemicals on top of the hydrogen and low-value O2 normally produced.
The team ran the splitting reaction with excess ethanol and a catalyst of cobalt oxide nanosheets. The reaction strips hydrogen atoms from the ethanol and the ions combine to form hydrogen gas – used increasingly to power fuel cells – and ethyl acetate.
The team say no other products are formed during the reaction, so potential manufacturers would be able to obtain pure ethyl acetate without energy-consuming purification processes.
The team says this could pave the way for completely green systems that generate hydrogen and a wide range of organic chemicals at room temperature from renewable electrical sources.
Nanfeng Zheng, professor of physical chemistry and solid surfaces at Xiamen University, told The Chemical Engineer that the team is also working on selectively oxidising alcohols to aldehydes, which would be useful to the perfume industry.
Zheng also said the next research step for the project is to build a scale-up facility that would allow the team to produce more valuable chemicals using the developed electrochemical reforming pathway. However he said more work is needed before the technique will be ready for commercial deployment.
“In order to push the real applications of the method, more engineering work is needed to build up practical electrochemical reactors,” he added.
ACS Central Science, DOI: 10.1021/acscentsci.6b00164
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