According to a report in journal 'Angewandte Chemie,' researchers from USA and China have come out with a new catalyst that directly converts cellulose, the most common form of biomass, into ethylene glycol, an important intermediate product for chemical industry. A research team led by Tao Zhang at the Dalian Institute of Chemical Physics (China) and Jingguang G. Chen at the University of Delaware (Newark, USA) has developed a catalyst which is made of tungsten carbide and nickel on a carbon support. In this system, a combined effect between the nickel and tungsten carbide along with converting 100 % cellulose also increases the proportion of ethylene glycol in the resultant mixture of polyalcohols to a noteworthy 61%.
As opposed to starch obtained from food products like corn and grain, cellulose is not a food and the most widely available form of biomass contained in the plant cell walls thereby available in abundance. This new system is a cost effective alternative to the traditional method in which cellulose is split into its individual sugar components, and then fermented. Further, the drawback of using noble metals as catalyst is the higher cost and their non-viability to use on an industrial scale.