In Minnesota, a team of energy researchers from the University of Minnesota and University of Massachusetts Amherst discovered that molecular motion can be predicted with high accuracy when confining molecules in small nanocages. Their theoretical method is suitable for screening millions of possible nanomaterials and could improve production of fuels and chemicals, including biofuels and biochemicals.
Molecules in the air are free to move, vibrate and tumble, but confine them in small nanotubes or cavities and they lose a lot of motion. The total loss in motion has big implications for the ability to capture CO2 from the air, convert biomass molecules into biofuels, or to separate natural gas, all of which use nanomaterials with small tubes and pores.
The focus on predicting molecular motion in nanomaterials builds on the Catalysis Center for Energy Innovation’s focus on design of catalysts for converting biomass-derived hydrocarbons into biofuels and biochemicals. The team recently discovered a new class of nanomaterials called “SPP” or “self-pillared pentasils,” which are zeolite nanomaterials for reacting and separating hydrocarbons. SPP and other nanostructures have also been the key materials in discovering chemical processes to make renewable plastic for soda bottles and renewable rubber for automobile tires.