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Novel Acid Catalysts from Waste-Tire-Derived Carbon: Application in Waste–to-Biofuel Conversion

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Chemistry Select
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Many inexpensive biofuel feedstocks, including those containing free fatty acids (FFAs) in high concentrations, are typically disposed of as waste due to our inability to efficiently convert them into usable biofuels. Here we demonstrate that carbon derived from waste tires could be functionalized with sulfonic acid (-SO3H) to effectively catalyze the esterification of oleic acid or a mixture of fatty acids to usable biofuels. Waste tires were converted to hard carbon, then functionalized with catalytically active -SO3H groups on the surface through an environmentally benign process that involved the sequential treatment with L-cysteine, dithiothreitol, and H2O2. When benchmarked against the same waste-tire derived carbon material treated with concentrated sulfuric acid at 150 °C, similar catalytic activity was observed. Both catalysts could also effectively convert oleic acid or a mixture of fatty acids and soybean oil to usable biofuels at 65 °C and 1 atm without leaching of the catalytic sites.