A join team of researchers from Belgium's KU Leuven and from Utrecht University in the Netherlands has examined the fuel production process, developing a new method that allows for cleaner diesel. According to the team, the technique could easily be scaled up to industrial levels for use within the next decade.

Catalysts are central to fuel production, facilitating the chemical reactions that transition the raw materials into a usable product. During the production process, the fuel molecules interact with the catalyst materials, bouncing between the metal and acid, altering their state as they go.

The researchers' breakthrough relates to the placement of the catalyst materials, which in this case consisted of platinum and a solid state acid. It's currently standard practice to place the two catalysts as close together as possible, which is thought to allow the raw materials to bounce more easily between them, giving the process a helping hand.

The new study turns this idea on its head, with the team finding that if the components are placed at least a few nanometers apart, then the reaction will produce a much more environmentally-friendly fuel. Surprised by the findings, the researchers were keen to make sure the results weren't compromised in any way, triple checking the outcome.

"We repeated the experiments three times, only to arrive at the same conclusion: the current theory is wrong," says Ku Leuven's Professor Johan Martens. "There has to be a minimum distance between the functions within a catalyst. This goes against what the industry has been doing for the past 50 years."

According to the team, the discovery could have big implications. If cars were to run on the cleaner diesel, they would emit significantly fewer harmful particles and produce less CO2. Furthermore, there's no reason that the production method couldn't be scaled up quickly, meaning we could be making use of the environmentally-friendly diesel as soon as five to 10 years time.

The findings of the study were published in the journal Nature.

Source: KU Leuven