Thanks to a new partly Italian discovery on heterogeneous catalysts it will soon be possible to convert the carbon monoxide (the killer gas that comes out of car exhausts) into carbon dioxide (more harmless) and produce hydrogen in a sustainable way.
What will it be for? Optimizing many chemical processes and improving the operation of petrochemical plants, reducing their polluting impact. In everyday life, the discovery will improve the quality of air and water through catalysts applicable to vehicles which abate pollutants more efficiently.
How did it come about? Everything starts from the nanotechnologies that have allowed us to create specials catalysts (systems that facilitate combustion) with a method very similar to that of Lego bricks and an accuracy never achieved before. Of these catalysts, presented a year ago, it was known that they allowed the combustion temperature of methane to be reduced from 600 ° C to 400 ° C, increasing the efficiency of boilers and engines and the emission of unhealthy gases.
Today it has been discovered that through the very small uniform nanocrystals one billionth of a meter long of which the catalysts it is possible to understand the mechanisms by which to transform a killer gas such as carbon monoxide in the most harmless carbon dioxide. At the same time opening a new panorama for environmental catalysis and for industrial catalytic applications.
The new step allows us to understand which atoms of a complex heterogeneous catalyst are involved in the process. Scientists have taken the tiny ones catalytic units and they have deposited them on different supports (like the bases for Lego constructions). At this point they studied the oxidation of carbon monoxide as the size of the catalytic units and the nature of the support with a precision never achieved before.
This will make it possible to accomplish catalysts containing almost exclusively useful atoms, reducing the final cost and creating increasingly efficient industrial processes. In particular, in this way it will also be possible to make a common metal such as nickel, suitably engineered, work like platinum. Since in many industrial sectors they are used catalysts for chemical transformations, the practical applications of the discovery will be numerous and important.
The Italian stamp on the discovery is from the University of Trieste, which has long been the leader in the project of heterogeneous catalysts in collaboration with the Universities of Pennsylvania and Cadiz.