Why do we need new catalysts?

Biomass is chemically different from fossil fuel - so we can’t use the same catalysts to process it.

Imagine using salt in a cake instead of sugar - it's not going to taste very good. To bake a delicious cake, you have to follow the recipe and use the right ingredients.

In a similar way, you need the right catalyst for the job.

Biomass contains water and fossil fuel catalysts fall apart in water. Meanwhile, impurities in dilute waste would destroy the catalysts by blocking the important activity sites, and they'd no longer work.

So, to process biomass effectively, we need new catalysts.

For example, instead of adding oxygen and other compounds, we must remove them. This calls for a complete re-think and re-design of existing catalysts.

We need to get the recipe right.

What is a catalyst?

A catalyst is a substance that helps a chemical reaction between other materials to happen, usually more quickly or under different conditions – like a lower temperature – than is normally the case.

They make a reaction more efficient and aren’t changed by it – so can be reused time and again.

Catalysts in the kitchen

  • Adding Vitamin C to bread dough makes the gluten stronger and gives us better loaves.
  • Beating eggs in a copper bowl makes a lighter meringue – the bowl’s copper ions leach harmlessly into the foam helping to stabilise it.