Materials

"Catalytic condenser" lets cheap metals act like rare, expensive ones

"Catalytic condenser" lets che...
A new device called a catalytic condenser allows common metals like aluminum to act like rare, expensive catalytic metals, making industrial processes cheaper
A new device called a catalytic condenser allows common metals like aluminum to act like rare, expensive catalytic metals, making industrial processes cheaper
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A new device called a catalytic condenser allows common metals like aluminum to act like rare, expensive catalytic metals, making industrial processes cheaper
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A new device called a catalytic condenser allows common metals like aluminum to act like rare, expensive catalytic metals, making industrial processes cheaper

It’s an unfortunate truth that many important chemical reactions require rare and expensive metals as catalysts. But now, scientists have developed a device that actively tweaks plain old aluminum to make it behave like other metals on the fly.

Platinum, palladium, rhodium and other metals are key drivers of reactions used to manufacture materials and chemicals in many industries. The problem of course is that these metals are hard to come by and as such can get very expensive, which drives up the cost of manufacturing equipment and processes, as well as the final products.

New research led by the University of Minnesota has found that by adding or removing electrons, common, cheap materials can be tuned to have some of the useful surface properties of expensive catalytic metals. A new device called a catalytic condenser can do just that.

“Atoms really do not want to change their number of electrons, but we invented the catalytic condenser device that allows us to tune the number of electrons at the surface of the catalyst,” said Paul Dauenhauer, lead researcher on the study. “This opens up an entirely new opportunity for controlling chemistry and making abundant materials act like precious materials.”

To adjust the number of electrons in a material, the catalytic condenser is made up of a series of thin films arranged in a stack. The top is a 4-nanometer-thick layer of alumina (aluminum oxide), which sits on a layer of graphene, with an insulator below that and a conductor on the bottom. When a voltage is applied to the graphene and conductor layers, a charge is induced in the alumina. This changes its surface properties, allowing it to act like a catalyst way above its pay grade.

The specific catalyst that the alumina can act like can be tweaked by tuning the voltage applied, the composition of the insulating layer, or including different additives in the active layer. The researchers say variations on these devices could be used in a range of industries, to perform different reactions as needed.

“We view the catalytic condenser as a platform technology that can be implemented across a host of manufacturing applications,” said Dan Frisbie, an author of the study. “The core design insights and novel components can be modified to almost any chemistry we can imagine.”

The research was published in the journal JACS Au.

Source: University of Minnesota

8 comments
8 comments
Ralf Biernacki
This is a key advance. 1. Countless industrial processes rely on catalysts; with this approach they can be redesigned to be cheaper, while cutting demand for scarce, strategic resources. 2. Currently catalysts are limited to what happens to be available naturally. But these catalytic condensers are tunable: they may, and probably will, open up new chemical processes that require "unobtanium" catalysts that do not exist in nature.
Robt
This is the type of science / metallurgy that doesn’t shout from the rooftops, but can be very beneficial in everyday processes. Good stuff
Expanded Viewpoint
Has anybody thought about further tweaking the device by using different frequencies of electricity or modulating them? That looks like a wide open field for research!
Ben84ll5
my catalytic converter wholesale business is doomed.
itsmeagain
Since catalysis is a surface phenomenon, catalysts are almost always finely divided powders, free in solution or coating a fine pore open cell foam as in auto catalytic converters, to expose as much surface area as possible. How do they propose to apply a voltage difference, bottom conductor to graphene layer, to such powers?
TechGazer
Impressive development. In response to itsmeagain's question about applying it to powders, powders aren't the only way to increase surface area. This technique might work with nanostructures, such as a surface covered in nanoneedles. It's not as cheap to produce as a powder, for the same surface area, but depending on all the factors, it could work out cheaper for some applications. The tunability might be key: it might offer catalysis that is much more effective than the available fixed-metal ones. Maybe this technique works with other metals too, increasing the possibility of finding some 'supercatalysts'.
ljaques
Let's hope these are marketable soon. Any funds that industries save can result in lower prices for their products and services.
Will these be adaptable for use in automobiles? It would immediately prevent the continued massive losses thrown on insurance companies & Americans every day from theft.
I worried for my truck's cat when I visited my family in the Bay Area. They're losing a couple converters a week in her neighborhood.
FONZIE
Isn't graphine hard to make and expensive?