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Pumping up safety in refining gasoline

Researchers at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory have developed a new solid acid catalyst that may provide oil producers worldwide with a safer approach for refining unleaded gasoline with reasonably high octane.

The Silica Supported Solid Acid Catalyst is an innovative technology that eliminates the need for toxic and corrosive acids in the process of converting crude oil to gasoline.

Refineries produce gasoline to operate the more than 500 million vehicles in the world.

Gasoline used in much of the Third World still contains lead, which can cause learning disabilities, hearing loss, high blood pressure and heart disease. Furthermore, some of the current crude oil refinery processes use corrosive and dangerous sulfuric and hydrofluoric acids that present a danger to the environment and the public if accidentally released.

The petrochemical industry has been seeking alternative processes that would create higher-octane unleaded gasoline without using dangerous liquid acids.

"The Silica Supported Solid Acid Catalyst can help refineries safely manufacture the component alkylate that can serve as a replacement for lead as an octane booster in gasoline," said Chuck Peden, associate director for the interfacial chemistry and engineering group. "Alkylate lends excellent anti-knock characteristics to unleaded gasoline, and the solid acid catalyst is highly efficient at synthesizing alkylate. These new catalysts also are noncorrosive and nonpoisonous so they can be handled with minimal protective gear."

UOP, Inc., a leader in supplying technology and products to the petrochemical industry for more than 50 years, has been a partner with Pacific Northwest in the development of these new catalysts. The U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Science has funded the research at the Laboratory.

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