More on Inexpensive Catalyst Substitutes for Precious Metals
Developing new catalysts derived from inexpensive minerals, instead of increasingly costly (and rare) precious metals, is an important area of research that involves several groups around the world. The next steps for the Cambridge researchers will be to investigate the activity of pyrite surfaces for strategically important industrial reactions, such as the manufacture of ammonia for fertilisers, the production of synthetic hydrocarbon fuels from renewable biomass, and the extraction of hydrogen for use in future fuel cell electric vehicles.There is quite a long list of industrial and energy processes which are in need of cheaper and better catalysts.
Dr [Marco] Sacchi added: "The necessity of finding reliable alternatives to overexploited catalytic materials - such as platinum, rhodium and gold - will soon become unavoidable. Experimental work is currently underway in our group, and we hope that our work will ultimately allow us to test the potential for catalytic application of a wide range of sulphidic and carbidic materials. In future, we aim to develop fruitful scientific collaborations with chemical engineering groups and with industrial partners." _Physorg
The ability to cheaply and skillfully manipulate matter on the molecular scale is important to the transition to a more advanced and clean level of industrial operations. Catalysts are crude and early forms of nanoassemblers.
The goal of catalytic researchers - cum - nanotechnologists is to be able to use cheap and abundant inorganic materials to mimic the efficiency and selectivity of biological catalysts -- peptide enzymes. The inorganic mimics of peptide enzymes should be more robust, with a much wider range of temperature and pressure activities.
At this point, progress is extremely slow, since researchers are limited to a "trial and error" approach. As computational models improve, it is hoped that the process of developing cheap, efficient, and robust catalysts will become streaamlined.