The production of biodiesel from the transesterification of plant-derived triglycerides with methanol has been commercialized extensively. Impure glycerol is obtained as a by-product at roughly one-tenth the mass of the biodiesel. Utilization of this crude glycerol is important in improving the viability of the overall process. Here we show that crude glycerol can be reacted with water over very simple basic or redox oxide catalysts to produce methanol in high yields, together with other useful chemicals, in a one-step low-pressure process. Our discovery opens up the possibility of recycling the crude glycerol produced during biodiesel manufacture. Furthermore, we show that molecules containing at least two hydroxyl groups can be converted into methanol, which demonstrates some aspects of the generality of this new chemistry.
At a glance
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