Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Revolutions in Catalyst Development

The development of more efficient and more economical catalysts is key to a cleaner and more abundant future of fuels and chemicals. Important advances are being made in the substitution of cheaper catalysts in place of expensive platinum. And entire new classes of catalysts are being developed:
Catalysts are used to initiate virtually every industrial manufacturing process that involves chemistry. Metal catalysts have been the traditional workhorses, but in recent years nano-sized catalysts have surged in importance.... The key to the success of this latest research was the encapsulation of metal nanoparticles inside dendrimers. The term "dendrimer" comes from the Greek word for "tree," an apt description for branching polymer molecules that resemble a worm's eye view of a tree's root system. Somorjai, Toste and their co-authors used gold nanoclusters and polyamidoamine (PAMAM), a common class of dendrimers suitable for numerous applications in materials and biotechnology. _RDMag
This new class of nano dendrimer catalysts is likely to find wide application in industry.

Replacing expensive platinum with less expensive materials is one of the key drivers in current industrial catalysis research:

Promising research at Brown University in the use of cobalt and graphene as substitutes for platinum

Princeton University research promises to substitute cheap iron particles in place of platinum

Organic catalysts -- including nitrogen doped carbon nanotubules -- may help to replace platinum in hydrogen fuel cells

Finally, plasma arc furnaces may allow for better recycling of platinum group metals, so that current supplies of these valuable catalysts can be extended much further into the future.

Revolutions in catalysts are rarely discussed outside of specialised fields of chemistry and engineering. And yet, catalysts play an extremely important role in the well being and prosperity of advanced societies.

Dangerous children learn to understand the technological underpinnings of modern societies. It is never too late to have a dangerous childhood.



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