Photo of the equipment used to produce the new catalyst made of graphene with oriented metal nanoparticles.
Photo of the equipment used to produce the new catalyst made of graphene with oriented metal nanoparticles.

Researchers at the Polytechnic University of Valencia (UPV) in Spain have developed a new catalyst made of graphene with oriented metal nanoparticles that can promote the organic reactions used in the manufacture of drugs and pesticides. Together with scientists at the University of Bucharest in Romania, the researchers came up with a single-step process for producing this material from seaweed and shrimp shells.

“Joining these two components [the graphene and the metal nanoparticles] while simultaneously getting the nanoparticles to orient themselves correctly is a big step, and has a direct impact on the efficiency and functionality of the resulting material as a catalyst,’ explains Hermenegildo García, a researcher at the Instituto de Tecnología Química (Chemical Technology Institute), a joint research center run by UPV and the Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas (Science National Research Council, CSIC). “Compared to the soluble metal compounds currently in use, this new catalyst is between a hundred thousand and a million times more active.”

To understand the importance of the properties of this new material, Hermenegildo García offers an analogy for the single-step production process they have developed: it is like “being able to lay the streets and the buildings of a city in the correct layout all at the same time. The new material is conducive to the coupling reactions that give us the drug and pesticide compounds, allowing bonds to be made easily and efficiently.” The reason for this lies in the optimal arrangement of the nano-sized particles.

As they report in Nature Communications, the process for obtaining the graphene film with oriented nanoparticles begins with purifying the raw material: seaweed and shrimp shells. The natural biopolymers are impregnated with metal ions, arranged like a film on a quartz surface and then heated to temperatures of around 1200°C. Under these conditions, the biopolymers turn into graphene, while the metals generate the nanoparticles that are deposited on the graphene film.

“Continuing with the analogy from before, the graphene would be the streets, which are laid first, and then the metal nanoparticles or buildings are arranged on top of them in a process which encourages their optimal orientation. This is what makes the resulting material more efficient," concludes García.

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