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The “cool” catalyst for a sustainable revolution in industrial chemistry

Gallium and platinum

Liquid gallium and three solid platinum beads, demonstrating the process of dissolving platinum in gallium described in the research paper. Credit: Dr. Md. Arifur Rahim, UNSW Sydney

Catalysts are substances that can accelerate chemical reactions, which is very important for industrial chemistry. However, for some reactions, platinum is an excellent catalyst, but it is quite expensive. In fact, it is the most precious precious metal and is worth more than gold.

For this reason, it is very useful to create new catalysts that are less expensive. This is exactly what the researchers did, but combining liquid gallium with platinum.

Scientists in Australia have been able to use traces of liquid platinum to create cheap and highly efficient chemical reactions at low temperatures, paving the way for dramatic emission reductions in crucial industries.

When combined with liquid gallium, the amounts of platinum needed are small enough to significantly expand the earth’s reserves of this precious metal, while providing more sustainable solutions for CO2 reduction, ammonia synthesis in fertilizer production, and fuel cell creation. green, along with many other possible applications in the chemical industries.

These platinum-focused discoveries are just a drop in the ocean of liquid metal when it comes to the potential of these catalysis systems. By extending this method, there could be more than 1,000 possible combinations of elements for over 1,000 different reactions.

The results will be published in the journal The chemistry of nature Monday, June 6, 2022.

Gallium and platinum catalytic system

An atomic view of the catalytic system in which silver spheres represent gallium atoms and red spheres represent platinum atoms. The small green spheres are reactants, and the blue ones are produced - highlighting the catalytic reactions. Credit: Dr. Md. Arifur Rahim, UNSW Sydney

Platinum is very effective as a catalyst (trigger of chemical reactions), but it is not widely used on an industrial scale because it is expensive. Most catalyst systems involving platinum also have high energy costs to operate.

The melting point for platinum is normally 1,768 ° C (3,215 ° F). And when used in solid state for industrial purposes, there should be about 10% platinum in a carbon-based catalytic system.

It is not an affordable report when trying to manufacture components and products for commercial sale.

However, this could be set to change in the future, after scientists at the University of New South Wales (UNSW) Sydney and RMIT University found a way to use small amounts of platinum to create strong reactions. without costly energy costs.

The team, including members of the ARC Center of Excellence in Exciton Science and the ARC Center of Excellence in Future Low Energy Technologies, combined platinum with liquid gallium, which has a melting point of only 29.8 ° C - that’s room temperature at a hot temperature. day. When combined with gallium, platinum becomes soluble. In other words, it melts without igniting an extremely powerful industrial furnace.

Gallium and platinum close

Liquid beads of gallium and platinum in the foreground. Credit: Dr. Md. Arifur Rahim, UNSW Sydney

For this mechanism, processing at a high temperature is only necessary in the initial stage, when the platinum is dissolved in the gallium to create the catalysis system. And even then, it’s only around 300 ° C for an hour or two, nowhere near the continuous high temperatures often required in industrial-scale chemical engineering.

UNSW co-author Dr. Jianbo Tang compared it to a blacksmith who used a hot forge to make equipment that would last for years.

“If you work with iron and steel, you have to heat it to make a tool, but you have the tool and you never have to heat it again,” he said.

“Other people have tried this approach, but they have to run their catalyst systems at very high temperatures all the time.”

To create an efficient catalyst, the researchers had to use a ratio of less than 0.0001 platinum per gallon. And most notable of all, the resulting system proved to be over 1,000 times more efficient than its solid-state rival (which had to be around 10% platinum expensive to operate).

The benefits do not end there - because it is a liquid-based system, it is even more reliable. Solid state catalytic systems eventually become clogged and no longer work. It’s not a problem here. Like a water element with a built-in well, the liquid mechanism is constantly refreshed, self-regulating its efficiency over a long period of time and avoiding the catalytic equivalent of surface pond deposits.

Dr. Md. Arifur Rahim, lead author at UNSW Sydney, said: “Since 2011, scientists have been able to miniaturize catalyst systems to the atomic level of active metals. In order to keep individual atoms separate from each other, conventional systems require solid matrices (such as[{” attribute=””>graphene or metal oxide) to stabilize them. I thought, why not use a liquid matrix instead and see what happens.

“The catalytic atoms anchored onto a solid matrix are immobile. We have added mobility to the catalytic atoms at low temperature by using a liquid gallium matrix”.

The mechanism is also versatile enough to perform both oxidation and reduction reactions, in which oxygen is provided to or taken away from a substance respectively.

The UNSW experimentalists had to solve some mysteries to understand these impressive results. Using advanced computational chemistry and modeling, their colleagues at RMIT, led by Professor Salvy Russo, were able to identify that the platinum never becomes solid, right down to the level of individual atoms.

Exciton Science Research Fellow Dr. Nastaran Meftahi revealed the significance of her RMIT team’s modeling work.

“What we found is the two platinum atoms never came into contact with each other,” she said.

“They were always separated by gallium atoms. There is no solid platinum forming in this system. It’s always atomically dispersed within the gallium. That’s really cool and it’s what we found with the modeling, which is very difficult to observe directly through experiments.”

Surprisingly, it’s actually the gallium that does the work of driving the desired chemical reaction, acting under the influence of platinum atoms in close proximity.

Exciton Science Associate Investigator Dr. Andrew Christofferson of RMIT explained how novel these results are: “The platinum is actually a little bit below the surface and it’s activating the gallium atoms around it. So the magic is happening on the gallium under the influence of platinum.

“But without the platinum there, it doesn’t happen. This is completely different from any other catalysis anyone has shown, that I’m aware of. And this is something that can only have been shown through the modeling.”

Reference: “Low-temperature liquid platinum catalyst” 6 June 2022, Nature Chemistry.
DOI: 10.1038/s41557-022-00965-6

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