Researchers from the University of Alicante Molecular Nanotechnology Laboratory (NANOMOL), led by Professor Javier García Martínez, and the laboratory of Professor Jeffrey Rimer at the University of Houston, have discovered a new material that could help reduce our dependence on fossil fuels. In particular, this new catalyst generates hydrocarbons from methanol with almost no deactivation, which is one of the main problems of this key process for producing more sustainable fuels. The details of this research are published today in the prestigious international journal Advanced Materials.
As Professor of Inorganic Chemistry Javier García Martínez explains, catalysts are essential substances for making better use of natural resources and reducing our impact on the environment. The catalysts discovered are made up of two-dimensional nanolayers of cross-linked zeolites. This three-dimensional building of 2D zeolites is much more accessible to bulky molecules and much more durable. According to Professor García Martínez, the structure of our catalysts resembles a house of cards. This open morphology has many advantages, especially in terms of the effectiveness and lifetime of the catalyst. The Professor highlights the fact that this discovery can contribute to achieving the European Union’s decarbonisation targets for 2050 and to reducing our impact on the environment, since it is not necessary to use organic compounds to manufacture these materials. Our catalysts are much more durable for the reaction of methanol (which can be obtained from renewable sources) to hydrocarbons. This reaction represents an exceptional opportunity to make fuels that do not come from fossil sources, Javier García Martínez explained.
The development of this new catalyst has been carried out thanks to the new system devised by professors García Martínez and Rimer, in which the contribution of the distinguished researcher from the University of Alicante, Noemí Linares, has also been essential. This process is based on zeolite seeding, a method that simplifies the manufacturing process and spontaneously produces the cross-linking of zeolite nanolayers. This discovery saves a large amount of organic compounds that were thought to be indispensable for the preparation of such catalysts. An additional advantage is the increase of aluminium concentration in the zeolite, which makes the transformation of bulky molecules easier and extends the lifetime of the catalyst.
The next steps for this project include scaling up the process to study its behaviour on a pre-industrial scale. In 2019, Professor García Martínez sold the company Rive Technology that he founded to commercialise other types of zeolite-based catalysts that are now used worldwide. The research published recently in Advanced Materials opens up new opportunities in the development of new catalysts based on 2D cross-linked zeolites and in the manufacture of more sustainable fuels.
Javier García Martínez
Javier García Martínez is a professor of Inorganic Chemistry and director of the University of Alicante Molecular Nanotechnology Laboratory, where he has carried out extensive teaching and research work on nanomaterials and their application to the energy sector. In June 2014, he was awarded the Rey Jaume I Prize in the category of New Technologies and, since 2015, he has been the first Spaniard to receive the Emerging Researcher Award from the American Chemical Society. In the summer of 2017, García Martínez was recognised by the same organisation with the Kathryn C. Hach Award as the best US entrepreneur in the chemical sector. Javier is a member of the World Economic Forum’s Emerging Technologies Council, the Young Global Academy and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry. Since 2019, Javier is Professor at the Rafael del Pino Foundation and President of the Young Academy of Spain. In the same year, the General Assembly of the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC) elected the professor of Inorganic Chemistry as president of this organisation for the 2022-2023 biennium.