Developing technologies for sustainable and secure energy provision is arguably the most important objective for the entire scientific and engineering community. Sustainable liquid fuels derived from crops – biofuels – are increasingly important. We have an interest in developing catalysts for the upgrading of simple biomass-derived building blocks, especially ethanol, into more advanced and useful fuels. A particular focus is the conversion of ethanol into butanol – a so-called advanced biofuel which has characteristics very close to existing gasoline. We have discovered ruthenium-based catalysts, supported by various ligands such as chelating diphosphines, which show unprecedented selectivity (over 95%) for this transformation at good conversion. We continue to study the mechanism of this remarkable reaction, as well as developing even more selective and versatile catalysts.
Update: see Duncan talk about this project at an ACS press conference.