Chemistry

Technology offer: Chemical raw materials from wood

Given the constant increase in the world’s population and the decline in fossil raw material reserves, the recovery of renewable raw materials is one of the key issues for the future. However, the aim is not only to fulfill long-term energy demand through the use of alternative, renewable, climate-friendly energy sources. Substances known as aromatics, which have been produced from oil up to now, are needed for the manufacture of thousands of everyday materials and are found, in drugs, coloring agents, plastics, and epoxy resins, among other things. And although it is possible to obtain these crucial synthesis components from wood, the conversion of wood into aromatic compounds was thus far only possible under technically sophisticated and uneconomic conditions. Researchers from the Max Planck Institut (MPI) für Kohlenforschung have now developed a method, with the help of which aromatics from wood can be made available for use as raw materials in a simple and cost-effective way.
lignin
Image: Laboratory process for the isolation of lignin from wood
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Fritz Haber Institute: Improving catalysts

Insights into the process which converts carbon dioxide into methanol could make it possible to recycle greenhouse gas: There is now one less mystery in chemical production plants. For many decades industry has been producing methanol on a large scale from a mixture of carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide, as well as hydrogen. An international team, including chemists from the Fritz Haber Institute of the Max Planck Society in Berlin, has now clarified why the catalyst used in this process – copper and zinc oxide particles and a small portion of aluminium oxide – works so well. They also discovered why this reaction accelerator has to be produced in the tried and tested way. The researchers established that defects in an as yet unknown combination with mixing of copper and zinc oxide at the catalyst’s surface are the reason why the catalysts are so active. These findings could make a contribution to further improving the catalyst, and also help researchers develop catalysts that convert pure carbon dioxide efficiently. These could be used to recycle the greenhouse gas that is produced when fossil fuels burn.

Picture: The first step towards the catalyst is the most important one: Julia Neuendorf and Malte Behrens control how a mixture of copper, zinc and aluminium salts precipitate the precursor for the catalyst of the methanol synthesis in the semi-automatic precipitation reactor. © Norbert Michalke for the MPG
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Finally: No more dirty windscreens thanks to self-cleaning glass

Due to its spherical nanostructure, fluorinated silica coating repels water and oil very effectively: Eyeglasses need never again to be cleaned, and dirty windscreens are a thing of the past! Researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Polymer Research in Mainz and the Technical University Darmstadt are now much closer to achieving this goal. They have used candle soot to produce a transparent superamphiphobic coating made of glass. Oil and water both roll off this coating, leaving absolutely nothing behind. Something that even held true when the researchers damaged the layer with sandblasting. The material owes this property to its nanostructure. Surfaces sealed in this way could find use anywhere where contamination or even a film of water is either harmful or just simply a nuisance.
Picture: A surface from which oil and water simply bounce off: The superamphiphobic coating is not even wet by the low-viscosity oil hexadecane, which would spread out even on a non-stick coating. Therefore, a drop of the liquid first bounces up off the surface before coming to rest on it as an almost perfect sphere. The superamphiphobic properties arise from the sponge-like glass structure that researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Polymer Research have developed. © Science / Xu Deng – MPI for Polymer Research

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