Gold pieces
Professor Alexey Pestryakov. Credit: Tomsk Polytechnic University (TPU)
Professor Alexey Pestryakov. Credit: Tomsk Polytechnic University (TPU)

Latest studies from the Tomsk Polytechnic University and their international counterparts have identified that gold nanoparticles can be recycled into one of the main byproducts of biofuel production, PhysOrg reported.

Taking part in this study are scientists from the University of Milano (Italy), the National Autonomous University of Mexico, the Institute of Catalysis and Petrochemistry of Madrid (Spain) and the University of Porto (Portugal).

The research findings have been published in Current Organic Synthesis this May.

Biofuel production: study explained

The Head of the Department of Physical and Analytical Chemistry, Alexey Pestryakov, said: “Today the production of biofuels is an important area in many countries. They can be obtained from a great variety of biomasses. In Latin America, sources include orange and tangerine peel as well as banana skin. In the U.S., biofuels are produced from corn; in the central part of Russia and Europe, sources are derived from rape (Brassica napus).

“When processing these plants into biofuels, a large amount of glycerol is formed. Its esters constitute the basis of oils and fats. Glycerol is widely used in the cosmetics industry as an individual product.

“However, much more glycerol is obtained in the production of biofuels – many thousands of tons a year. As a result, unused glycerol merely becomes waste.

“Now, a lot of research groups are engaged in this issue as to how to transform excess glycerol into other useful products. Along with our foreign colleagues, we offered catalysts based on gold nanoparticles.”

Chemical substances

According to PhysOrg: “The authors of the research note that catalytic oxidation on gold is one of the most effective techniques to obtain from glycerol such useful products as aldehydes, esters, carboxylic acids and other substances.”

“All these substances are products of fine organic chemistry and are in demand in a wide range of industries, particularly in the pharmaceutical and cosmetic industries. In agriculture, they are applied as part of different feed additives, veterinary drugs, fertilizers, plant treatment products, etc. Thus, unused glycerol after being processed will further be applied,” says Pestryakov.

“In a piece of gold, there will be no chemical reaction. In order to make gold become chemically active, the size of the particles should be less than two nanometers. At that scale, it has amazing properties,” says the scientist.

Biofuel used in aviation

Last year in South Africa, which is also home to the world’s largest gold resource according to the Chamber of Mines, state-owned air transport company, South African Airways (SAA) and its subsidiary Mango, flew the first ever flights in Africa fuelled by biofuel made from tobacco plants grown in the Marble Hall region in Limpopo.

The Boeing 737-800 biofuel-fuelled planes flew between OR Tambo International airport near Johannesburg and over Cape Town.