BY RHIANN MOORE
If the world is continually unable to find a way to regulate the excessive use of gasoline and diesel at least scientists at Caltech have developed a method to remove (potentially all) sulfur compounds from the gas. Because sulfur compounds in fuel are what create the most air pollution, this is a huge coup for environmentalists, especially those who would rather there was simply an alternative to diesel and gas made widely available. Luckily, this new method addresses the issue head on as the large-scale oil refinery process removes the majority of the sulfur from fuel and gets it down to a government-mandated level. The study was a joint effort by scientists at Caltech, UCLA, ETH Zurich and China’s Nanjing University.
The study, which was published February 17, 2017, shows how a group of scientists were able to successfully eliminate most of the sulfur through a simple chemical process. While this is a massive accomplishment, they have to continue to work in order to complete the project on an industrial scale according to the lead author of the study Anton Toutov.
Sulfur dioxide has significant effects on the environment as it causes deforestation, the detriment of aquatic life. It also has terrible implications on the people’s respiratory systems – particularly those suffering from asthma, or children. As a result of these dangerous results it is imperative that innovative works like this are given the opportunity to be implemented on a larger scale.
The new procedure uses a potassium salt to induce chemical reactions that are necessary to remove sulfur from fuel. Because potassium is easy to come across for little money the method is not only an environmental marvel, it’s an economic one. Typically such chemical reactions have only been known to come from the use of precious (expensive) metals such as platinum – however, a couple years ago researchers in the Caltech Grubbs laboratory began to run experiments sans metal and were surprised to find that the wanted reactions were still occurring. They confirmed via rigorous testing that it was in fact potassium salt that acted as the driving force in these reactions.
Toutov, along with other scientists, worked to eventually use potassium salt as a way to remove sulfur from carbon compounds that are in diesel fuels. This process could be used as an add-on step in order to remove sulfur in fuels during oil refinement. A new company founded by Toutov, Fuzionaire, is in its early days. Once up and running the company will work in order to commercialize this technology which is still sadly stuck in a lab. The process could be used in order to recycle waste products along with ridding gasoline and diesel fuel of sulfur. It would be a wonderful compromise that allowed for fuel and diesel companies to remain active, without having them actively destroying the air around us.
The study, “A potassium tert-butoxide and hydrosilane system for ultra-deep desulfurization of fuels” can be read on the Caltech Library Service.