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Making a cheaper, cleaner diesel fuel to do industry’s heavy lifting

BY Rebecca Jacobson  July 24, 2014 at 2:01 PM EST

Diesel fuel, used for trucks, jets and other heavy-duty machinery, can be made from just about anything — coal, crude oil, natural gas, plants. And fuel made with a process called Fischer Tropsch burns cleaner than traditional diesel. But the process leaves a lot of waste, and it’s expensive.

Scientists working with the Center for Enabling New Technologies through Catalysis are trying to develop a lower-cost, low waste version of the fuel with a dual catalyst process, which turns carbon monoxide and hydrogen into the liquid hydrocarbons. The long-chain molecules from the process can be turned into fuel. The short chain molecules left over are typically discarded as waste.

But those leftovers don’t need to be wasted. Richard Schrock, a chemist at MIT and Nobel prize winner, developed the second catalyst, which pieces the leftover waste chemicals together to make more fuel.

Miles O’Brien has more on this story for the National Science Foundation series “Science Nation.”*

*For the record, the National Science Foundation is also an underwriter of the NewsHour.