A 3D 'self-assembled' catalyst.
A 3D 'self-assembled' catalyst.

A team of scientists from Aston University in the UK has discovered a new strategy to fabricate ‘self-assembled’ catalytic materials that could have revolutionary applications in chemistry, energy and healthcare.

In collaboration with the universities of Durham and Leeds, the Aston team designed a novel ‘bottom-up’ scalable process that uses low cost chemical ingredients to create three dimensional (3D) porous architectures from silica, with a complexity rivaling that found in nature. Adam Lee, chair of sustainable chemistry at Aston’s European Bioenergy Research Institute and lead author of a paper describing the work in Nature Materials, explained that the new method could be readily adapted to transform current catalyst manufacturing.

Catalysts are substances that accelerate chemical reactions, directing atoms and molecules down specific pathways in order to form desirable products. Catalysis is a core area of science and technology, and the industrial catalysis sector contributes over £50 billion annually to the UK economy, impacting on almost every aspect of daily life, from the production of fuels to plastics, paints and drug therapies.

In many commercial processes, low value chemical building blocks are transformed into high value products, such as pharmaceuticals, through a series of catalytic reactions, termed a cascade. Each reaction is normally performed independently, making it difficult to control the reaction sequence and also increasing the economic and labor costs, as well as the amount of waste generated.

In their paper, the Aston team demonstrate the ability to control the location of catalytic metal nanoparticles within the self-assembled 3D silica architectures with atomic scale precision. Such control is essential to promote energy efficient chemical reactions of relevance to climate change, energy security and sustainability, and also opens up new possibilities for the design of next-generation biomedical sensors and telecommunications devices.

For example, by placing two catalytic metals, palladium and platinum, in different locations within the silica architecture, less of these expensive precious metals is required to convert naturally occurring unsaturated alcohols into valuable fragrance and flavoring components. The new bimetallic catalyst operates under mild conditions, reducing CO2 emissions and minimizing the use of hazardous reagents.

“We hope that this research will have a broad and lasting impact upon the way that porous materials are synthesized and applied across diverse industries,” said Lee. “In particular, our new strategy could revolutionize the way in which heterogeneous catalysts, such as those found in the modern automotive catalytic converter, are designed, offering enormous potential benefits in terms of chemical manufacturing costs and environmental and health applications.”

This story is adapted from material from Aston University, with editorial changes made by Materials Today. The views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent those of Elsevier. Link to original source.