A team of researchers in Japan has developed a way to create synthetic oils without the use of heavy metals. Scientists have published all of their results in the latest issue of the Journal of the American Chemical Society.
When it comes to high performance applications such as engine lubricants or jet fuels, synthetic oils are preferred over refined crude oil products. For the past hundred years, the production of synthetic oils has exploited the Fischer-Tropsch process, which uses hydrogen and carbon monoxide or carbon dioxide. However, this process uses heavy metals such as iron and cobalt to mediate the reaction and requires high pressure environments and temperatures above 200 degrees Celsius to operate, which consumes a large amount of energy.
When applied in industrial environments, we expect it could greatly reduce energy consumption.Kyoko Nozaki , University of Tokyo
Synthetic oils extracted at room temperature
"We found a reaction similar to that of the Fischer-Tropsch process, but which proceeds without the use of heavy metals," said Professor Kyoko Nozaki of the University of Tokyo, Japan. “Instead we use reagents containing boron, which is a component of some minerals; this can make the whole process work even at room temperature "
Synthetic oils obtained in Japan: how the reaction works
The reaction works by combining carbon molecules from carbon monoxide or carbon dioxide. This can only happen when oxygen molecules are removed by a substance called a 'reducing agent'. In the Fischer-Tropsch process, theordinary hydrogen, but this boron system requires a more potent lithium and hydrogen based substance.