Converting Dirty Aluminum Foil into a Biofuel Catalyst




 A researcher at Queen’s University Belfast has discovered a way to convert dirty aluminum foil into a biofuel catalyst, which could help to solve global waste and energy problems.
In UK, around 20,000 tons of aluminum foil packaging are wasted each year - enough to stretch to the moon and back. Most of this are landfilled or incinerated as it’s usually contaminated by grease and oils, which can damage recycling equipment.
Ahmed Ibrahim Osman, an Early Career Researcher from Queen’s University’s School of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering and Assistant Lecturer at South Valley University, published an innovative crystallization method, which obtains 100% pure single crystals of aluminum salts from the contaminated foil. This is the starting material for the preparation of alumina catalyst.
Usually, to produce this type of alumina, it would have to come from bauxite ore, which is mined in countries such as West Africa, West Indies and Australia, causing huge environmental damage.
Ahmed, who took on the project under the QUB University’s Sustainable Energy, Pioneering Research Program, has created a solution which is much more environmentally-friendly, effective and cheaper than the commercial catalyst which is currently available on the market for the production of dimethyl ether - a bio-fuel which is regarded as the most promising of the 21st century. Ahmed said that "making the catalyst from aluminum foil cost about 120/kg while the commercial alumina catalyst comes in at around 305/kg. Those materials are abundant in Egypt due to the largest Aluminum Company in the Middle East, so the application of this research can be a game changer for the Energy sector in Egypt".
Its unique thermal, chemical and mechanical stability means it can also be used as an absorbent, in electronic device fabrication, as a cutting tool material or as an alternative for surgical material for implants. The ground-breaking research has been published in Nature Scientific Reports.
Ahmed commented: “I have always been inspired by Chemistry and I believe that catalysis especially can make the world a better place. One day I took a walk through our laboratories at Queen’s and found lots of Aluminum foil waste so I did a little digging and after speaking to my colleagues, I ran my experiment and was astonished by the ultrapure single crystals – I didn’t expect it to be 100% pure".
“This breakthrough is significant as not only is the alumina more pure than its commercial counterpart, it could also reduce the amount of aluminum foil going to landfill while also sidestepping the environmental damage associated with mining bauxite.”
Ahmed is hoping to continue his research into how these catalysts can be further improved and explore the opportunities for commercialization of bio-fuel production or use the modified alumina catalyst in the catalytic converters in natural gas vehicles.