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The following is a translation from German into English via AltaVista, along with some human editing of a press release from the German Max-Planck-Gesellschaft (MPG) Titled: Zauberkohle aus dem Dampfkochtopf, or Conjuring Coal from Biomass, dated July 12, 2006.

We would appreciate it if someone who is conversant with the German language could clean up this translation. We've done what we can cleaning up with the AltaVista rendition. -- SilverThunder 22:50, 10 Aug 2006 (EDT)

Some more editing done by Vortexpower


Fig.: Success is obvious: If one fills biomass, for example greens, into a pressure vessel, adds a few crumbs of the catalyst to it. The whole thing is hermetically sealed and heated to 180 degrees C. After about twelve hours one obtains a black powder consisting of carbon nano-balls. Picture: Norbert Michalke
Fig.: Success is obvious: If one fills biomass, for example greens, into a pressure vessel, adds a few crumbs of the catalyst to it. The whole thing is hermetically sealed and heated to 180 degrees C. After about twelve hours one obtains a black powder consisting of carbon nano-balls.
Picture: Norbert Michalke

Conjuring Coal from Biomass

Max-Planck scientist announces the development of a new process, to tranform biomass, such as leaves, into valuable raw materials.


Imagine converting straw, wood, grass or leaves into coal overnight.

Such was the dream of Alchemists of the Middle Ages, who strived to turn inferior materials into gold.

Markus Antonietti, director at the Potsdam Max-Planck-Institute for colloid and boundary surface research, has developed a procedure which can transform vegetable biomass completely into carbon and water without any complicated detours or intermediate steps. The procedure - "hydrothermal cabonization" - could become the basis for sustainable, environmentally neutral energy production.

This was reported in the current edition of the science magazine, Max Planck Research (2/2006).


Contents

How it works

The coal making process designed by Markus Antonietti reminds us of a pressure cooker. And the recipe for making coal is astonishingly simple. The pressure vessel is filled with any choice of vegetable matter, for instance leaves, straw, grass, wood chips or pine cones. Add water and a bit of the catalyst. Then the cooker is sealed and the contents are heated for twelve hours at 180 degrees C. After the mixture is cooled, the pot is opened. It contains a black broth - water with tiny spherical carbon particles in suspension.

All carbon, which was bound in the plant material, has now turned to small, spherical porous brown coal balls. They can be directly burned, or be used (more efficiently) in fuel cells. They may also be used for the production of gasoline, diesel oil or other chemicals. Since the hydrothermal carbonification is not a sudden process, there are some interesting intermediate products that can be obtained during the process. After only a few minutes one finds a preliminary stage of oil in the pressure vessel; and during a later phase we find pure humus (fertile earth).

All these transformations occur without any loss of carbon. The procedure therefore works at one hundred percent carbon efficiency. Additionally, the carbonization process is exothermic, providing more energy during the transformation. This method is therefore superior to all other methods of extracting energy from biomass, and could open the way to an absolutely environmentally-neutral energy industry.

What happens in Antonietti's equipment, the formation of brown coal, is patterned after what happens in nature. However, the natural process is much slower -- measured in millions of years. Duplicating this process from nature required first to understand its fundamentals - on molecular level. The director of the Max-Planck Institute says: "vegetable biomass consists ultimately of carbohydrates, components of sugar, which contain very much energy. Therefore we had to find a way to divide these sugar molecules into carbon and water - and we discovered a chemical process which not only gives us carbon as an energy source but also frees the energy which is contained in the sugar molecules."

This process requires a catalyst in order to proceed more rapidly than in nature, greatly accelerating the fragmentation of the sugar molecules into carbon and water. This catalyst, which is added to contents of the pressure cooker in small amounts, is the actual secret of the "miracle coal" made in Potsdam. Our hope is that this catalyst can also accelerate the emergence of a sustainable and environmentally-neutral energy industry.


# # #

A detailed version of this text can be found as a feature article of the latest issue of Max Planck Research. There is also an article titled "Energy", where we report on research into environmentally friendly and resource-saving technologies: fusion reactors, artificial photosynthesis and the best energy-mix.

Max Planck Research is published four times a year. Free subscriptions to the science magazine can be obtained at the the Max-Planck website: http://mpg.de

ISSN 0170-4656

Related Links

[ 1 ] Video "Kohle aus Biomasse" (available only in German)

[ 2 ] Max Planck research on the InterNet


Original publication:

Cui, XJ.; Antonietti, M.; Yu, SH.
Structural effects of iron oxide nanoparticles and iron ions on the hydrothermal carbonization of starch and rice carbohydrates
Small, 2 (6): 756-759 Jun 2006


Yu, SH.; Cui, XJ.; Li, LL.; Li, K.; Yu, B.; Antonietti, M.; Colfen, H.
From starch to metal/carbon hybrid nanostructures: Hydrothermal metal-catalyzed carbonization
Advanced Materials, 16 (18): 1636 Sep 16 2004


Contact

For further information see:

Professor Dr. Markus Antonietti
Max-Planck-Institut for Colloid and Boundary Surface Research, Potsdam
Tel.: +49,331 567-9501 / Fax: +49,331 567-9502
E-Mail: pape@mpikg-golm.mpg.de


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