Metals, like platinum, palladium and nickel, play a key role as catatysts that change the quality of reactions of gases like carbon, hydrogen and oxygen.
Designing catalysts at the nanoscale (billionth of a meter) will help to improve interactions within fuel cells that convert chemical energy into electricity. But achieving precise control over nano-sized particles has been difficult.
Now Brown University researchers have designed fuel cell catalysts using palladium nanoparticles that have about 40 percent greater active surface area, and ‘remain intact four times longer’.
A New Binding Agent & Surface Area
The researchers have learned how to bind the 4.5 nanometer sized metal pieces to a carbon support platform using weak binding amino ligands that keep the nanoparticles separate. After they are set, the ligand links are ‘washed away’ without negatively changing the catalysts.
“This approach is very novel. It works,” said Vismadeb Mazumder, a graduate researcher who joined chemistry professor Shouheng Sun “It’s two times as active, meaning you need half the energy to catalyze. And it’s four times as stable. It just works better.”
Rethinking the Problem: Think Small, not Big
Our current 'crisis' around energy and climate change has less to do with our relationship with the Planet, than it does our relationship with molecules.
To change our footprint on the Planet, we have to change our relationship with nature at the molecular level.
We are still living in an Industrial Age where we extract carbon-hydrogen bonds assembled by ancient plants and algae to power our world and to make plastic-based products. To stay within the Planet's carrying capacity, we have to change this relationship with molecules.
This is the next, yet to be written, chapter:
The Nanoscale Era of Materials Engineering.
Industrial Age Part Two: Green Chemistry
Why be hopeful? Scientists continue to move us closer to a new era of Industrial manufacturing based on a vision of 'Green Chemisty' in which we create the basic components used in making materials, energy, food and pharmaceuticals using more sustainable practices, often without the use of petroleum based feedstocks. Now we have another step forward.
Argonne National Lab researchers have developed a clustered platinum catalyst to reduce the amount of energy needed in converting propane (via oxidative dehydrogenation) into a propene feedstocks used in a wide variety of materials. (I know these words seem strange, but they all related to different arrangements of carbon and hydrogen with oxygen to stir things up a bit.)
“Using platinum clusters, we have devised a way to catalyze propane not only in a more environmentally friendly way, but also using far less energy than previous methods,” said Argonne scientist Stefan Vajda.
Researchers believe that this 'new class of catalysts may lead to energy-efficient and environmentally friendly synthesis strategies and the possible replacement of petrochemical feedstocks by abundant small alkanes.'
(Alkane? There's another funny word. But honestly, it's just a different arrangement of carbon and hydrogen! Whether you say 'ethelyne', 'human being' or 'breathing' it is just another funny way of saying carbon, hydrogen and oxygen.)
Related posts on Green Chemistry on The Energy Roadmap.com