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Preparation of inorganic catalysts from ceramic industry wastes for use in the production of biofuel


Catalysts’ surface structural features and characterizations play an important role in many chemical industrial processes among which is biofuel production. Heterogeneous catalysts strongly affect the types of products in catalytic hydrocracking of oils. The present study aims at the preparation of low-cost inorganic catalysts with improved catalytic activity. This will then be used in the production of bio-jet fuel — conforming to ASTM specifications — by hydrocracking of Jatropha oil. Five types of inorganic catalysts have been prepared and tested. The best results were obtained from the catalyst produced from ceramic wastes. It produced the highest bio-jet yield (51%) and the highest freezing point (− 52 °C). A BET surface area of 21.9 m2/g and a "total pore volume" of 0.025877 cm3/g were obtained.


The catalytic hydrocracking process is used to convert feedstocks such as recycled cooking greases, animal fats, and plant oils to biofuels such as biogasoline, bio-jet, biodiesel, and mazot [1, 2]. Catalysts are classified as homogeneous, heterogeneous, and biocatalysts. Each catalyst is produced by different manufacturing methods [3]. The catalytic conversion processes take place under pressurized H2 and in a temperature range of 280–450 °C. The product types, yield, and selectivity are controlled by the choice of catalyst [4, 5].

The catalyst properties are controlled by the pore shape, acidity, and size. There is a wide range of different types of catalysts such as macroporous (silica-alumina, alumina), mesoporous (MCM-41 and SBA-15), microporous (zeolite), composite microporous-mesoporous [1,2,3], Ni/ZSM-5 [6], CoMo/Al2O3, Ni-HZSM-5/SBA-15 [7], Ni–Mo/Al2O3 [8] and Ni–W/SiO2–Al2O3, PdNi/HZSM-5 catalyst [9], NiMo/SA-2 and NiMo/Z-10, CoMo/MCM-41 [10], K-modified zeolite ZSM-5 [11], mesoporous-alumina-supported CoMo catalysts [10], Ni/H-Beta [8], Ni/SAPO-11 [12], and ZSM-5-Zn [13].

In heterogeneous catalysis, the catalytic reaction mechanism takes place according to the following steps [14]: reactant diffuses to the surface, adsorption inside the catalyst surface, surface diffusion of reactants, reaction occurs on the surface, surface diffusion of products, products desorption from the surface, and diffusion away from the surface [15].

There is a direct correlation between the availability of catalytic sites on the catalyst surface and the number of reactant molecules that have been transformed into products during a certain time [8]. The active sites are maximized by the high surface area obtained from porous oxide particles (carriers) such as Al2O3, SiO2, TiO2, SiO2-Al2O3, or combinations, activated carbon [3, 14], and spread of the catalytic components such as Rh, Fe, PdO, Pd, Pt, CuO, CoO, and Ni onto the catalyst surface. Generally, the catalytic body is formed by the combination of two parts, the support and the precursor [16, 17]. The support could be organic, inorganic and modified. Examples of the support include NH4Y, ZSM-5, SAPO-11, Zeolite β, Bentonite P-140, SAPO-34, ZSM-5, SBA-15, and MCM-41 [3, 18]. The precursor is a solution of either a metal salt or complex containing Cr, Rh, Mn, Fe, Cu, Co, Ru, Ni, Zn, etc. [3] Ni (NO3) 2.6H2. Typical solutions include RuCl3.3H2O, "Ca (NO3)2.4H2O" and "La (NO3)3.6H2O", "Al (NO3)3.9H2O", and "Zn (NO3)2.4H2O," etc. [3].

Catalyst preparation techniques include surface modification such as acid, basic, or heat treatment of clays [19,20,21,22] and preparation by chemical reaction of pure components and materials such as the production of "ultra-stable Y zeolite USY" [23], Hβ [24], HZSM-5 [10], HZSM-5 catalysts Si/AL ratio 198 [18], titania, zirconia, ceria, loaded on supports such as amorphous alumino-silicate and nano γ-Al2O3 alumina catalyst [25].

The present work aims to preparation of a low-cost inorganic catalyst from ceramic industries wastes to be used in the bio-jet fuel production, which is conforming to ASTM specification by hydrocracking of Jatropha oil. In order to the objectives of economic, environmental, and also to achieve sustainable development, saves sources of raw materials for future generations.



Imported bentonite (C) obtained from Geohellas — technical clays, Natural Solutions, Greece, initially developed for the edible oil refining sector.

Egyptian bentonite (B) was obtained from Borg El Arab, Alexandria, Egypt. It comes from Egyptian quarries and is generally used for the manufacture of ceramics, pottery, and handicrafts.

Three different ceramics industrial wastes obtained from Ceramica Alfa factory, 6th of October City, are used as catalysts after modification. The wastes are the kiln rollers hazardous fine waste (W1), which is a high alumina waste obtained from the surface grinding of kiln rollers, ceramics floor dust (W2), and wall dust (W3).

Hydrochloric acid was purchased from Sigma-Aldrich Laborchemikalien GmbH Company, Germany. The acid concentration is 37%, and its molecular weight is 36.5.

Jatropha oil was obtained from solid–liquid extraction of Jatropha curcas seeds at National Research Center, Egypt.

Catalyst preparation

Each catalyst is prepared by adding 50 g of bentonite clays (B, C) and ceramics wastes (W1, W2, W3) to 500 ml of 0.1-M HCl, and the mixture is fed to a round flask connected to a condenser and heated to 110 °C, for 4 h. The resulting suspensions are then rapidly quenched in 500-ml ice-cold distilled water. After quenching, the suspension was filtered and washed several times using distilled water until chloride ions are completely removed. The modified clays and wastes are then dried in an oven at 110 °C and calcinated at 550 °C for 4 h.

Catalysts and materials characterization

  • X-ray fluorescence spectrometry (XRF) analyses were carried out on an Axios, PANalytical 2005, and wavelength-dispersive x-ray fluorescence (WD-XRF) sequential spectrometer. X-ray diffraction (XRD) tests to confirm the crystal structure were carried out with "the following settings:" goniometer = theta/theta; minimum step size 2 theta: 0.0001; minimum step size omega: 0.0001", sample stage = stage for flat samples/holders, diffractometer system = Empyrean, and anode material: Cu. The scans were taken at 2θ = 4–80°.

  • Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy (FTIR) analysis was performed using Origin Jasco Infrared Spectrum (FT/IR-6100 type A) over the wave number range 4000–399 cm−1.

  • The surface area of the inorganic catalysts and raw materials was studied using version 1.21 of the Quantachrome TouchWin™ to determine the Brunauer, Emmett, and Teller (BET) surface area. Before the experiments, all material samples were degassed at 200 °C for 6 h. The "BET"-specific surface area was estimated from the linear part of the adsorption curve. "The total pore volumes of micro- and mesopores were directly obtained from nitrogen adsorption at P/PO around (0.1–0.98)". "The pore diameter distribution was calculated from the desorption branch using" "Barrett-Joyner-Haleda (BJH) formula (Berraaouan et al., 2020; Hussin et al., 2011; Ro & Novakovi, 2010)". It is important to ensure that the purity of the adsorptive is not less than 99.999%. In addition, the accuracy of the results depends on careful preparation and sampling of the adsorbent (Thommes et al., 2015).

  • Particle size distributions (PSD) of the raw material samples were measured using Particle Sizing Systems, Inc., Santa Barbara, USA, and intensity-weighted Gaussian distribution analysis method for solid particles. Some PSD of raw material samples were measured using laboratory cumulative screen analysis apparatus. Scanning electron microscopy (SEM) and energy dispersive X-ray analyses (EDX), carried out on Quanta 250 FEG (field emission gun) attached with EDX unit, were used to examine the microstructure of the produced prepared catalyst. Scanning the microstructure and the surface of the specimen can be done by accelerating a beam of fine focused electron under maximum potential difference of 30 kV. Using a magnification 14 × up to 1,000,000, microstructure is then photographed. The prepared catalyst samples were coated with gold layer (thickness 200 to 300 Ao) using K550X sputter coater equipment and then examined under SEM.

Biofuel preparation

The procedure of the laboratory preparation of the biofuel involves the following steps. Jatropha oil is filtered, and 100 g of the filtrate is fed to the stainless-steel laboratory batch reactor operated for 18 min at a hydrogen gas pressure of 4 bar and a temperature range of 350–450 °C. The collected product is fractionated in a laboratory distillation unit to obtain the following products corresponding to the distillation temperature range: bio-gasoline (60–170 °C), bio-jet fuel (170–270 °C), bio-diesel (270–330 °C), and Mazot and tar at higher temperatures.

Biofuel specification

The freezing point of bio-jet fuel samples is measured according to ASTM specifications. A total of 15 ml from every sample are placed in a glass tube under liquid nitrogen until the sample totally freezes. The freezing point was measured by reading the thermometer indicated at the last thin crystal layer in the solid–liquid mixture. Existent gum content according to ASTM D-381 of jet fuel must not exceed 7 mg/100 ml [21]. The gum values are estimated for the Jet A-1 blended with 5% vol. bio-jet fuel.

Results and discussion

X-ray fluorescence

Table 1 shows that the XRF analyses of the natural clays and ceramics wastes are almost the same. It is obvious that SiO2 and Al2O3 are the major components of all raw materials and prepared catalysts, with trace amounts of other metal oxides. The hydrochloric acid effect on raw materials is to increase the silica content and to decrease the abundance of metal oxides such as CaO, Na2O, Fe2O3, MnO, Ca2+, and Na+ cations, which dissolve readily by mild acid treatment. These oxides exist at interlayer of exchangeable cations. Although Fe3+, Al3+, and Mg2+ cations belong to the octahedral sheet inside the clay structure, they impede acid attack. The rise within the relative percentage content of the insoluble Si4+ cations happens as a result of a reduction of the opposite cations from the octahedral and interlayer sheets [19, 22, 26]. As a result, the hydronium cations introduced into the interlayer spacing of the clay maintain the layer structure. It was reported that the clay activated using sulfuric acid shows a significant increase in L.O.I and SO3− percentages as well as a reduction in alumina and silica percentages. This happens initially by replacement of the interlayer cations with H+ ions from the sulfuric acid, thus causing dissolution of structural cations (Al3+, Si4+). The specific surface area of the clay thus increases as a result of the dealumination of the clay structure [19, 22, 25]. It was also reported that the clay activated using phosphoric acid shows an increase in the SiO2 percentage as a result of the reduction of the opposite cations from the interlayer and octahedral sheets [27], and a high P2O5 percentage has been noticed.

Table 1 XRF analysis of raw and prepared catalysts

X-ray diffraction

The X-ray diffraction (XRD) spectra of natural clays (C and B), the acid-activated clays used as catalysts in this study (MC and MB), ceramics wastes (W1, W2, and W3), and prepared catalysts (MW1, MW2, MW3) are presented in Figs. 1 and 2. The clays and ceramic wastes seem to be well crystallized. It is seen that treatment with HCl modifies the peaks of ceramic wastes and clays. The peaks illustrate the intensity and width of all prepared catalysts, which are nearly identical to the pure raw materials. This indicates structural preservation. The peak severity is an index of the degree of laminar structure retained by the clay [19, 22, 28, 29].

Fig. 1
figure 1

XRD pattern for imported and Egyptian bentonite (C, MC, B, and MB)

Fig. 2
figure 2

XRD pattern for ceramic industrial wastes. a before modification and b after modification

The XRD analysis of imported clay shown in Fig. 1 reveals that it consists of 24.5% SiO2 and 75.5% gmelinite. The XRD analysis of the imported clay after modification consists of 96.6% monalbite and 3.4% zeolite. Egyptian clays XRD analysis shown in Fig. 1 indicates that it consists mainly of 44.3% kaolinite and 34.1% quartz. The prepared catalysts from the Egyptian clays contain 62.5% quartz and 17.2% sodium aluminum silicate as shown in Fig. 1. The XRD analysis shown in Fig. 2a indicates that the ceramics waste W1 is composed mainly of mullite and corundum. The ceramic waste, W2, mainly consists of albite, kaolinite, and microcline, while W3 is mostly microcline, albite, calcite, and quartz. The prepared catalyst from ceramics wastes MW1 contains 33.9% corundum and 51.8% mullite as seen in Fig. 2b; MW2 contains 20.6% aluminum silicate hydroxide, 35% albite low, and 40.3% microcline, and MW 3 contains 16.6% microcline, 36.3% albite, and 47.1% quartz low.

Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy

The infrared spectral analysis of imported and Egyptians clays is shown in Fig. 11 and Table 2. The imported clays contain wave numbers of 3426, 2927, 1644, 1024, and 671 cm−1 as seen from Table 2, H–O-H stretching of absorbed water, C–H stretching, OH stretching hydration, and Si–O stretching of clay minerals, respectively. For the prepared catalyst MC, the wave numbers of 3441, 1632, 1048, and 798 cm−1 appear which corresponds to H–O-H stretching of absorbed water, OH stretching hydration, Si–O stretching, and Si–O quartz, respectively.

Table 2 FTIR wave number of the catalyst

The Egyptian clays contain wave numbers of 3397, 2930, 1646, and 1028 cm−1) as seen in Table 2 which indicate H–O-H stretching of absorbed water, C–H stretching, and OH stretching and hydration of clay minerals, respectively. The prepared catalyst MB shows wave numbers of 3425, 2927, 1644, 1025, and 472 cm−1 due to H–O-H stretching of absorbed water, C–H stretching, OH stretching hydration, Si–O stretching, and Si–O-Si bending, respectively, which accounts for the bending and stretching vibrations of the hydroxyl groups OH found in water molecules absorbed on the surface of the Egyptian clay. This is due to the loss of hydroxyl OH groups and molecules of water by the elimination of octahedral cations, which are attached to the framework of Egyptian clay [22, 25]. After the Egyptian clay was modified with hydrochloric acid, the amorphous Si–O-Si units were formed in three-dimensional networks. This is indicated by the rise of the wave number 472 cm−1. The infrared spectral analysis of the ceramic wastes and their prepared catalysts are shown in Fig. 3 and Table 2. It is seen that their behavior is similar to that of clays.

Fig. 3
figure 3

FTIR pattern for ceramic industrial waste, imported “and” Egyptian. a before modification and b after modification

The FTIR wave numbers of W1 and MW1 are 3429, 1632, and 724 cm−1 and 3429, 3432, and 1632 cm−1, respectively, referring to H–O-H stretching of the absorbed water and Si–O quartz. The FTIR wave numbers for W2 and MW2 are 3440, 1631, 1033, 781, 536, and 466 cm−1 and 3440, 1631, 1040, 780, 580, and 463 cm−1 revealing H–O-H stretching of absorbed water, OH stretching hydration, Si–O stretching, Si–O quartz, Fe–O, Fe2O3 Si–O-Al stretching, and Si–O-Si bending, respectively. This indicates the partial solubility of Al, Fe, and Mg cations in the structure of bentonite clay. The FTIR wave numbers for W3 and MW3 are 3418, 2928, 1645, 1025, 538, and 468 cm−1 and 3435, 2925, 1639, 1037, 776, 536, and 462 cm−1 indicating H–O-H stretching of absorbed water, C–H stretching, OH stretching hydration, Si–O stretching, Si–O quartz, Fe–O, Fe2O3 Si–O-Al stretching, and Si–O-Si bending, respectively [5, 30,31,32,33,34].

N2 physisorption

The results of the BET surface area, N2-adsorption–desorption analysis, and BJH pore size distribution of the raw clays, ceramic wastes, and the prepared catalyst samples are shown in Figs. 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 and in Table 3. In all samples, a sharp inflection appears in the prepared catalysts on increasing total pore volume, average pore diameter, and BET surface area. The large surface area and pore volume of catalysts increase the rate of the reactions. MW3 has the largest surface area in industrial ceramics wastes, and the surface area of MC is larger than that of MB. From these results, it can be concluded that MW3 and MC catalysts have the best heterogeneous catalytic action. The observe BJH pore size distribution values show that for the prepared catalysts, the pore size increased with a wide range of distribution. This indicates good reactant distribution during the catalytic process. The adsorption–desorption isotherm curves of the prepared catalysts are shown in Figs. 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8. It is seen that the modified catalysts have higher capability of reactant adsorption and product desorption at their surface. The MC catalyst has the highest adsorption–desorption isotherm and is followed by MB and MW3, respectively.

Fig. 4
figure 4

Adsorption–desorption isotherm of C and MC

Fig. 5
figure 5

Adsorption–desorption isotherm of B and MB

Fig. 6
figure 6

Adsorption–desorption isotherm of W1 and MW1

Fig. 7
figure 7

Adsorption–desorption isotherm of W2 and MW2

Fig. 8
figure 8

Adsorption–desorption isotherm of W3 and MW3

Table 3 Specific surface area, pore diameter, and pore volume of raw materials and prepared inorganic catalysts

Particle size distributions

The cumulative particle size analyses of Egyptian bentonite and prepared catalyst MB are measured. It is clear that the raw bentonite and MB are very fine powders having a mean diameter of 453.5 nm and 2746 nm, respectively. Also, the particle size distribution of the MB is practically larger than B; this may be due to the degree of catalyst grinding after its laboratory preparations.


The SEM scan and EDX analysis of the surface of the representative samples during the catalytic hydrocracking process are presented below. The first sample is the MW3 catalyst and solid remaining in the reactor after reaction shown in Fig. 9. The second sample represents MW3 catalyst and is shown in Fig. 10. The EDX of the sample is displayed in Table 4. It is seen that the sample mainly contains carbon atoms indicating that the catalyst may be covered with coke and mazot.

Fig. 9
figure 9

SEM of MW3 catalyst and solid remaining in reactor after reaction

Fig. 10
figure 10

SEM of MW3 catalyst after biofuel filtrations

Table 4 EDX of MW3 catalyst

Bio-jet fuel

The five catalysts were used in the production of bio-jet fuel by catalytic hydrocracking of Jatropha oil under the obtained optimum operating conditions of 350 °C, 4 bar H2, 18 min reaction time, and 4% catalyst. The biofuel mixture that was obtained from the reaction was separated in a distillation tower into four fractions: biogasoline, bio-jet, biodiesel, and mazot according to their boiling points. Figure 11 shows that the bio-jet fuel yield increased from 34 to 54% when using the different prepared catalysts. The optimum yield was obtained using MC (54%) followed by MW3 (51%) and MW1 (48%) with the lowest yield achieved by MB (40%). The bio-jet fuels produced using the different catalysts were tested, and their specifications are shown in Table 5 that conformed to the ASTM specifications of the freezing point (− 47 °C to − 56 °C) and existent gum content (5.9–6.4 mg/100 ml).

Fig. 11
figure 11

Types of catalyst effect on yield of bio-jet fuel production

Table 5 The mixture of (5% bio-jet with 95% jet A-1) fuel specifications

Preliminary techno-economic evaluation of MW3 catalyst preparation

The preliminary techno-economic evaluation was carried out on MW3 catalyst at a consumption capacity of 1183 t/year. It is assumed that the plant will operate for 7200 h, and the bio-jet fuel plant capacity is assumed to be 10,000 ton/year.

The purchased cost and specifications of all equipment that were obtained from the market are shown in Tables 6 and 7. The total purchased cost of equipment was calculated at US $403,500. The total capital cost presented in Table 8 was found to be US $2.19 MM/year. The annual production cost summarized in Table 9 was US $1.44 MM/year. Accordingly, the production cost of MW3 catalyst was calculated as US $1214/t.

Table 6 Equipment sizing of inorganic catalyst production
Table 7 Equipment purchased cost of catalyst production
Table 8 Total capital cost of catalyst production
Table 9 Production cost of catalyst

It is to be noted that the price of the prepared inorganic catalyst MW3 is lower than other known catalysts used in the catalytic hydrocracking of Jatropha oil to produce bio-jet fuel, US $18 per BBL of the produced bio-jet fuel. The price was compared with the Pt/C, Ni/Al2O3 catalysts price of US $23,589/t, and US $26,014/t, respectively, which was obtained in the previous study of Precommercial heterogeneous catalyst price: a simple step-based method [35]. The difference in the price is due to the fact that the MW3 is an industrial waste and has no value. Not only is the MW3 catalyst easy to produce but also this does not require the necessity of recycling, given that it is from industrial waste and is widely available daily, and its recovery needs more than one step, which is costly. As a preliminary assessment, the bio-jet fuel production cost will be lower if MW3 is used as the catalyst instead of the other prepared commercial heterogeneous catalyst in the catalytic hydrocracking process.


Acid modifications that applied to all raw materials are as follows: 0.1-M HCl, heated to 110 °C, for 4 h and calcination at 550 °C for 4 h. It was necessary to generate the catalytic activity. Five types of catalysts and their raw materials are characterized and tested by XRF, XRD, FTIR, SEM, EDX, and BET. All prepared inorganic catalysts performed efficiently during catalytic hydrocracking of Jatropha oil to produce biofuel, operated for 18 min, 4 bar H2, and temperature range (350 –450 °C), which was then separated by fractional distillation into biogasoline, bio-jet fuel, and biodiesel with a residue of mazot and coke.

The produced biofuel components were separated, tested, and were found to conform to the ASTM jet fuel specifications. The MW3 is produced the highest bio-jet yield (51%) and the highest freezing point (− 52 °C). A “BET surface area” of 21.9 m2/g and a “total pore volume” of 0.0258 cm3/g were obtained.

A preliminary techno-economic assessment for the production of bio-jet fuel using MW3 catalyst revealed that the catalyst had a price of US $1214/t. This indicates that the bio-jet fuels produced using MW3 catalyst are more economical and conform to the ASTM specifications when compared to the other prepared commercial heterogeneous catalyst Pt/C and Ni/Al2O3 that had a price of US $23,589/t and US $26,014/t, respectively.

Availability of data and materials

Not applicable in this section.



American Society for Testing and Materials


Egyptian bentonite


Imported bentonite


Cold acid solvent extraction


Carbon monoxide

CO2 :

Carbon dioxide


Continues stirred tank reactor




Environmental Protection Agency


Fixed cost investment


Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy


Greenhouse gas



H2 :



Potassium hydroxide






Modified Egyptian bentonite


Modified Imported bentonite

MW1 :

Modified waste1

MW2 :

Modified waste2

MW3 :

Modified waste3

NOx :

Nitrogen oxides


Equipment purchased cost


Physical plant cost




Revolutions per minute



SOx :

Sulfur oxides


Total capital investment


United States of America

W1 :


W2 :


W3 :



Weight hourly space velocity




X-ray powder diffraction


X-ray fluorescence


Residence time


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Authors would like to express their sincere gratitude to the National Research Center in Egypt for its invaluable support throughout experimental work and chemical analysis. It is funded by the National Research Centre award number (6/3/18).


National Research Centre, award number (6/3/18), grant recipient master degree of Sarah Hisham Hassan.

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SH, writing the paper and doing the experimental work in catalyst preparation and production of biofuel, catalyst characterizations, and biofuel specification. GI,reviews the paper, interprets biofuel results, and develops the working plan. NK, participating in the experimental work of the bio-jet fuel, analyzing data results, and writing and review the paper. SK, interpretation of catalyst results and review the paper. MR and RS, review the paper. All authors have read and approved the manuscript and ensure that this is the case.

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Correspondence to Sarah Hisham Hassan.

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Hassan, S.H., Attia, N.K., El Diwani, G.I. et al. Preparation of inorganic catalysts from ceramic industry wastes for use in the production of biofuel. J. Eng. Appl. Sci. 70, 68 (2023).

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