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Wanted: A safer way to make high-octane gasoline

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Gasoline is a complex blend of different ingredients.  One component that beefs up octane and cuts down on smog is called alkylate.  It makes up about 10% of the gasoline consumed worldwide– that’s more than 13 billion gallons of alkylate per year for the U.S. alone.

Besides boosting octane, alkylate contains virtually no sulfur, so it burns cleaner than other fuels and it keeps gasoline from boiling off in the summer heat.

But making alkylate is hazardous, requiring lots of sulfuric or hydrofluoric acid. Besides being highly corrosive, these acids release poisonous fumes and can burn through skin.  This makes them extremely dangerous to transport, store and handle.

Researchers at the Center for Environmentally Beneficial Catalysis, or CEBC, have found a potentially safer way to make this critical gasoline component.

“We are testing the use of acidic ionic liquids as potential replacements for mineral acids that current processes use,” said Bala Subramaniam, CEBC Director.  Ionic liquids are carbon-based salts that are liquid near room temperature. Unlike conventional solvents, they don’t evaporate or emit toxic fumes into the air.

The researchers tested six different ionic liquids, either alone or mixed with the acids. 

“We found that mixtures of ionic liquid and acid were better at making alkylate than the pure acids alone,” said Aaron Scurto, assistant professor of chemical engineering. 

The mixtures release fewer poisonous fumes than the pure acids. They were also easier to separate from the final product than the pure acids, making it feasible to recycle the acid catalyst for reuse. 

The findings have been published in the Journal of Catalysis [1]. They could eventually lead to a safer method for making gasoline alkylate by reducing the use of toxic acids. 

And, if the results hold up, ionic liquids might also be used in other chemical processes that require acid catalysts.

--Story by Claudia Bode

[1] Tang, S.; Scurto, A. M.; Subramaniam, B. “Improved 1-butene/isobutane alkylation with acidic ionic liquids and tunable acid/ionic liquid mixtures,”  Journal of Catalysis  2009 268:2, pp 243-250.

CEBC Calendar

March 4, Thursday - Industry Colloquium 
9:00 a.m., via Zoom
Allyn Kaufmann, US Whitespace & Innovation Lead
"Serial Innovation in Consumer Heathcare - Intersection of Chemistry and the Consumer"

March 10, Wednesday - Mandatory Safety Meeting 
9:00 a.m., via Zoom
Mandatory for all CEBC researchers working at 1501 Wakarusa

March 25, Thursday - Industry Colloquium 
9:00 a.m., via Zoom
Nikola Juhasz, Global Technical Director, Sustainability
Sun Chemical Corporation, Carlstadt, NJ
"Sustainability of Packaging Industry"

April 1, Thursday - Industry Colloquium 
9:00 a.m., via Zoom
Sagar Sarsani, Project Leader
Sabic, Sugarland, TX
"Chemical Industry R&D Career Pathways"

April 12 & 13, Monday & Tuesday - Spring Advisory Boards Meeting
& Project Evaluations

1:00-3:00 p.m. each day, via Zoom
Click here to register

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