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In the wake of high-profile battery fires, a safer approach emerges

May 14, 2014 9:36 am | News | Comments

As news reports of lithium-ion battery (LIB) fires in Boeing Dreamliner planes and Tesla electric cars remind us, these batteries, which are in everyday portable devices, like tablets and smartphones, have their downsides. Now, scientists have designed a safer kind of lithium battery component that is far less likely to catch fire and still promises effective performance.

Relieving electric vehicle range anxiety with improved batteries

April 15, 2014 3:29 pm | News | Comments

The chemistry of lithium-ion batteries limits how much energy they can store, and one promising solution is the lithium-sulfur battery, which can hold as much as four times more energy per mass. However, problematic polysulfides usually cause lithium-sulfur batteries to fail after a few charges. Researchers at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, however, have developed a new powdery nanomaterial that could solve the issue.

Scientists discover way to make ethanol without corn, other plants

April 10, 2014 9:00 am | by Mark Shwartz, Stanford Univ. | News | Comments

Stanford Univ. scientists have found a new, highly efficient way to produce liquid ethanol from carbon monoxide gas. This promising discovery could provide an eco-friendly alternative to conventional ethanol production from corn and other crops, say the scientists. Their results are published online in Nature.

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Tiny “step edges” are a big step for surface science

April 9, 2014 2:59 pm | News | Comments

Recent experiments in Austria have explained the behavior of electrons at tiny step edges on titanium oxide surfaces. The finding, which shows why oxygen atoms attach so well to these edges, is important for solar cell technology and novel, more effective catalysts.

Scale model World War II craft takes flight with fuel from the sea

April 7, 2014 6:06 pm | News | Comments

Navy researchers have recently demonstrated sustained flight of a radio-controlled P-51 fighter replica fueled by a new gas-to-liquid process that uses seawater as carbon feedstock. The fuel is made using an innovative and proprietary electrolytic cation exchange module that separates gases from water at 92% efficiency. Catalysis converts the gases to liquid hydrocarbons.

Shape helps catalyst extract energy from biomass

April 2, 2014 6:06 am | News | Comments

Biomass is a good alternative for fossil fuels, but converting biomass into useful chemicals and fuels is difficult in practice. The metal oxide CeO2 can help the process by activating water, but until recent research in the Netherlands, it was not clear in which form the reactivity of this catalyst was highest.

New battery technology employs sticky composites

March 26, 2014 9:20 am | by Diane Kukich, Univ. of Delaware | News | Comments

Lithium-ion batteries power a vast array of modern devices, from cell phones, laptops, and laser pointers to thermometers, hearing aids, and pacemakers. The electrodes in these batteries typically comprise three components: active materials, conductive additives, and binders. Now, a team of researchers at the Univ. of Delaware has discovered a “sticky” conductive material that may eliminate the need for binders.

Recovering valuable substances from wastewater

March 24, 2014 9:54 am | News | Comments

Phosphorus can be found in fertilizers, drinks and detergents, and it accumulates in waterways, polluting them. For this reason, researchers in Germany have developed a new platform for recovering this valuable but harmful element from water. They have attached bonding sites for phosphorus to particles so that they fish the phosphate anions out of the water and carry them “piggyback”. The particles can be applied using a magnet.

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New hybrid material promising for solar fuels

March 9, 2014 11:42 pm | by Lynn Yarris, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory | News | Comments

A new study by Berkeley Lab researchers shows that nearly 90% of the electrons generated by a hybrid material designed to store solar energy in hydrogen are being stored in the target hydrogen molecules. Interfacing the semiconductor gallium phosphide with a cobaloxime catalyst provides an inexpensive photocathode for bionic leaves that produce energy-dense fuels from nothing more than sunlight, water and carbon dioxide.

New catalyst could lead to cleaner energy

March 6, 2014 8:20 am | by Anne Trafton, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Massachusetts Institute of Technology chemists have devised a way to trap carbon dioxide and transform it into useful organic compounds, using a simple metal complex. More work is needed to understand and optimize the reaction, but one day this approach could offer an easy and inexpensive way to recapture some of the carbon dioxide emitted by vehicles and power plants.

Researchers identify key intermediate steps in artificial photosynthesis reaction

March 3, 2014 2:42 pm | by Lyn Yarris, Berkeley Lab | News | Comments

A key to realizing commercial-scale artificial photosynthesis technology is the development of electrocatalysts that can efficiently and economically carry out water oxidation reaction that is critical to the process. Heinz Frei, a chemist Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, has been at the forefront of this research effort. His latest results represent an important step forward.

Researchers discover highly promising new class of nanocatalyst

February 28, 2014 7:23 am | by Lyn Yarris, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory | News | Comments

A big step in the development of advanced fuel cells and water-alkali electrolyzers has been achieved with the discovery of a new class of bimetallic nanocatalysts that are an order of magnitude higher in activity than the target set by the U.S. Department of Energy for 2017. The new catalysts feature a 3-D catalytic surface activity that makes them significantly more efficient and far less expensive than the best platinum catalysts.  

Tracking catalytic reactions in microreactors

February 21, 2014 11:08 am | by Lynn Yarris, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory | News | Comments

A pathway to more effective and efficient synthesis of pharmaceutical drugs and other flow reactor chemical products has been opened by a study in which, for the first time, the catalytic reactivity inside a microreactor was mapped in high resolution from start-to-finish. The results not only provided a better understanding of the chemistry behind the catalytic reactions, they also revealed opportunities for optimization.

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New, improved photocatalytic materials developed in Japan

February 21, 2014 10:50 am | News | Comments

The scarcity of ultraviolet (UV) light in sunlight has held back the usefulness of titanium dioxide-based photocatalysts. Through the application of nanotechnology, researchers in Japan have recently succeeded in the development of better titanium dioxide-based material that can be activated by visible light. The solution lies in an array of nanoparticles that “simulate” the photoexcitation of UV light.

New catalyst converts greenhouse gases into chemicals

January 31, 2014 11:02 am | by Karen B. Roberts, Univ. of Delaware | News | Comments

A team of researchers at the Univ. of Delaware has developed a highly selective catalyst capable of electrochemically converting carbon dioxide to carbon monoxide with 92% efficiency. The carbon monoxide then can be used to develop useful chemicals. The exceptionally high activity of the new electrocatalyst is due to its extremely large and highly curved internal surface.

Engineers teach old chemical new tricks to make cleaner fuels, fertilizers

January 27, 2014 2:03 pm | News | Comments

Researchers from two continents have engineered an efficient and environmentally friendly catalyst for the production of molecular hydrogen (H2), a compound used extensively in modern industry to manufacture fertilizer and refine crude oil into gasoline. The new method can product industrial quantities of hydrogen without emitting carbon into the atmosphere.

Atomic-scale catalysts may produce cheap hydrogen

January 22, 2014 8:13 am | News | Comments

Researchers at North Carolina State Univ. have shown that a one-atom thick film of molybdenum sulfide (MoS2) may work as an effective catalyst for creating hydrogen. The work opens a new door for the production of cheap hydrogen. Hydrogen holds great promise as an energy source, but the production of hydrogen from water electrolysis currently relies in large part on the use of expensive platinum catalysts.

A catalyst with a million uses

January 17, 2014 12:20 pm | News | Comments

Solid catalysts based on precious metals, such as palladium, are widely used in industry to promote a range of chemical reactions. Finding ways to minimize the consumption of expensive catalytic materials, however, remains a critical challenge. Researchers in Japan have now developed a nanostructured catalyst that makes extremely efficient use of trace amounts of catalytic palladium.

Cobalt catalysts allow researchers to duplicate complicated steps of photosynthesis

January 13, 2014 4:19 pm | News | Comments

Humans have for ages taken cues from nature to build their own devices, but duplicating the steps in the complicated electronic dance of photosynthesis remains one of the biggest challenges and opportunities for chemists. Currently, the most efficient methods we have for making fuel from sunlight and water involve rare and expensive metal catalysts. However, that is about to change.

The play-by-play of energy conversion

January 9, 2014 9:53 am | by Justin Eure, Brookhaven National Laboratory | News | Comments

Researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Brookhaven National Laboratory report that, for the first time, a comprehensive set of tools is available for exploring correlations among the morphological, structural, electronic and chemical properties of catalytic materials under working conditions. Two recent studies have used microscopy and spectroscopy to catch custom-built catalysts in action.

A cheaper method of storing solar energy

January 8, 2014 9:45 am | News | Comments

By replacing platinum with molybdenum in photoelectrochemical cells, scientists from two Swiss labs have developed a cheaper and scalable technique that can greatly improve hydrogen production through water splitting as a means of storing solar energy.

Batteries as they are meant to be seen

December 27, 2013 10:12 am | News | Comments

Life science researchers regularly use transmission electron microscopy to study wet environments. Now, scientists at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory who are studying batteries have used the method to have applied it successfully to microscopically view electrodes while they are bathed in wet electrolytes, mimicking realistic conditions inside actual batteries.

Researchers split water into hydrogen, oxygen using light, nanoparticles

December 16, 2013 9:48 am | News | Comments

Scientists from the Univ. of Houston have found a catalyst that can quickly generate hydrogen from water using sunlight, potentially creating a clean and renewable source of energy. Photocatalytic water-splitting experiments have been tried since the 1970s, but this is the first to use cobalt oxide and the first to use neutral water under visible light at a high energy conversion efficiency without co-catalysts or sacrificial chemicals.

Researchers discover a potential catalyst substitute for platinum

December 13, 2013 4:16 pm | News | Comments

Today’s fuel cells require costly platinum as a catalyst for the reaction that forms water from hydrogen and oxygen. A research team inspired by nature to develop an alternative catalyst has designed a material consisting of organic molecules as well as iron or manganese on a metallic substrate. These materials are less costly and more easily available than platinum.

Designing a better catalyst for solar-powered hydrogen production

December 3, 2013 12:58 pm | News | Comments

Hydrogen is a “green” fuel that burns cleanly and can generate electricity via fuel cells. One way to sustainably produce hydrogen is by splitting water molecules using the renewable power of sunlight, but scientists are still learning how to control and optimize this reaction with catalysts. At the National Synchrotron Light Source, a research group has determined key structural information about a potential catalyst.

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