Researchers at Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) are working on a method to produce a key component in synthetic rubber from renewable ethanol.

Butadiene, which is used in making car tires and sneaker soles, is currently produced by the petrochemical industry. However, according to the KAUST scientists, it could be efficiently and sustainably produced from renewable ethanol using a modernised version of an old catalytic process, called the Lebedev process, which converts ethanol to butadiene in a single catalytic reactor.

Lebedev process

the Lebedev process

“Butadiene is currently produced as a byproduct of the petrochemical industry, which can lead to shortages in its supply,” Sang-Ho Chung, a research scientist in the KAUST Catalysis Centre, explains, adding that this pathway is also not sustainable.

The Lebedev process uses silica-magnesia catalysts that are produced by an unusual method called wet kneading. The researchers are working to better understand catalyst formation in order to prepare improved catalysts. They have already developed a more selective version of the catalyst that could be a key step in commercialising the process of sustainable butadiene production.