Nav: Home

Energy researchers break the catalytic speed limit

May 28, 2019

A team of researchers from the University of Minnesota and University of Massachusetts Amherst has discovered new technology that can speed up chemical reactions 10,000 times faster than the current reaction rate limit. These findings could increase the speed and lower the cost of thousands of chemical processes used in developing fertilizers, foods, fuels, plastics, and more.

The research is published online in ACS Catalysis, a leading journal of the American Chemical Society.

In chemical reactions, scientists use what are called catalysts to speed reactions. A reaction occurring on a catalyst surface, such as a metal, will speed up, but it can only go as fast as permitted by what is called the Sabatier's principle. Often called the "Goldilocks principle" of catalysis, the best possible catalyst aims to perfectly balance two parts of a chemical reaction. Reacting molecules should stick to a metal surface to react neither too strong nor too weakly, but "just right." Since this principle was established quantitatively in 1960, the Sabatier maximum has remained the catalytic speed limit.

Researchers of the Catalysis Center for Energy Innovation, funded by the U.S. Department of Energy, found that they could break the speed limit by applying waves to the catalyst to create an oscillating catalyst. The wave has a top and bottom, and when applied, it permits both parts of a chemical reaction to occur independently at different speeds. When the wave applied to the catalyst surface matched the natural frequency of a chemical reaction, the rate went up dramatically via a mechanism called "resonance."

"We realized early on that catalysts need to change with time, and it turns out that kilohertz to megahertz frequencies dramatically accelerate catalyst rates," said Paul Dauenhauer, a professor of chemical engineering and materials science at the University of Minnesota and one of the authors of the study.

The catalytic speed limit, or Sabatier maximum, is only accessible for a few metal catalysts. Other metals that have weaker or stronger binding exhibit slower reaction rate. For this reason, plots of catalyst reaction rate versus metal type have been called "volcano-shaped plots" with the best static catalyst existing right in the middle at the volcano peak.

"The best catalysts need to rapidly flip between strong and weak binding conditions on both sides of the volcano diagram," said Alex Ardagh, post-doctoral scholar in the Catalysis Center for Energy Innovation. "If we flip binding strength quickly enough, catalysts that jump between strong and weak binding actually perform above the catalytic speed limit."

The ability to accelerate chemical reactions directly affects thousands of chemical and materials technologies used to develop fertilizers, foods, fuels, plastics, and more. In the past century, these products have been optimized using static catalysts such as supported metals. Enhanced reaction rates could significantly reduce the amount of equipment required to manufacture these materials and lower the overall costs of many everyday materials.

Dramatic enhancement in catalyst performance also has the potential to scale down systems for distributed and rural chemical processes. Due to cost savings in large-scale conventional catalyst systems, most materials are only manufactured in enormous centralized locations such as refineries. Faster dynamic systems can be smaller processes, which can be located in rural locations such as farms, ethanol plants, or military installations.

"This has the potential to completely change the way we manufacture almost all of our most basic chemicals, materials, and fuels," said Professor Dionisios Vlachos, director of the Catalysis Center for Energy Innovation. "The transition from conventional to dynamic catalysts will be as big as the change from direct to alternating current electricity."
-end-
To read the full research paper, entitled "Principles of Dynamic Heterogeneous Catalysis: Surface Resonance and Turnover Frequency Response," visit the ACS Catalysis website.

The discovery of dynamic resonance in catalysis is part of a larger mission of the Catalysis Center for Energy Innovation, a U.S. Department of Energy-Energy Frontier Research Center, led by the University of Delaware. Initiated in 2009, the Catalysis Center for Energy Innovation has focused on transformational catalytic technology to produce renewable chemicals and biofuels via advanced nanomaterials. Learn more on the Catalysis Center for Energy Innovation website.

University of Minnesota

Related Chemical Reactions Articles:

Catalyst enables reactions with the help of green light
For the first time, chemists at the University of Bonn and Lehigh University in Bethlehem (USA) have developed a titanium catalyst that makes light usable for selective chemical reactions.
A new tool for controlling reactions in microrobots and microreactors
In a new paper, Thomas Russell and postdoctoral fellow Ganhua Xie, at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, report that they have used capillary forces to develop a simple method for producing self-assembling hanging droplets of an aqueous polymer solution from the surface of a second aqueous polymer solution in well-ordered arrays.
First-time direct proof of chemical reactions in particulates
Researchers at the Paul Scherrer Institute PSI have developed a new method to analyse particulate matter more precisely than ever before.
Finding the source of chemical reactions
In a collaborative project with MIT and other universities, scientists at Argonne National Laboratory have experimentally detected the fleeting transition state that occurs at the origin of a chemical reaction.
Accelerating chemical reactions without direct contact with a catalyst
Northwestern University researchers demonstrate a chemical reaction produced through an intermediary created by a separate chemical reaction, findings that could impact environmental remediation and fuel production.
Visualizing chemical reactions, e.g. from H2 and CO2 to synthetic natural gas
Scientists at EPFL have designed a reactor that can use IR thermography to visualize dynamic surface reactions and correlate it with other rapid gas analysis methods to obtain a holistic understanding of the reaction in rapidly changing conditions.
Mechanical force as a new way of starting chemical reactions
Researchers have shown mechanical force can start chemical reactions, making them cheaper, more broadly applicable, and more environmentally friendly than conventional methods.
Using renewable electricity for industrial hydrogenation reactions
The University of Pittsburgh's James McKone's research on using renewable electricity for industrial hydrogenation reactions is featured in the Journal of Materials Chemistry A's Emerging Investigators special issue.
Quantum entanglement in chemical reactions? Now there's a way to find out
For the first time, scientists have developed a practical way to measure quantum entanglement in chemical reactions.
Driving chemical reactions with light
How can chemical reactions be triggered by light, following the example of photosynthesis in nature?
More Chemical Reactions News and Chemical Reactions Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Listen Again: Meditations on Loneliness
Original broadcast date: April 24, 2020. We're a social species now living in isolation. But loneliness was a problem well before this era of social distancing. This hour, TED speakers explore how we can live and make peace with loneliness. Guests on the show include author and illustrator Jonny Sun, psychologist Susan Pinker, architect Grace Kim, and writer Suleika Jaouad.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#565 The Great Wide Indoors
We're all spending a bit more time indoors this summer than we probably figured. But did you ever stop to think about why the places we live and work as designed the way they are? And how they could be designed better? We're talking with Emily Anthes about her new book "The Great Indoors: The Surprising Science of how Buildings Shape our Behavior, Health and Happiness".
Now Playing: Radiolab

The Third. A TED Talk.
Jad gives a TED talk about his life as a journalist and how Radiolab has evolved over the years. Here's how TED described it:How do you end a story? Host of Radiolab Jad Abumrad tells how his search for an answer led him home to the mountains of Tennessee, where he met an unexpected teacher: Dolly Parton.Jad Nicholas Abumrad is a Lebanese-American radio host, composer and producer. He is the founder of the syndicated public radio program Radiolab, which is broadcast on over 600 radio stations nationwide and is downloaded more than 120 million times a year as a podcast. He also created More Perfect, a podcast that tells the stories behind the Supreme Court's most famous decisions. And most recently, Dolly Parton's America, a nine-episode podcast exploring the life and times of the iconic country music star. Abumrad has received three Peabody Awards and was named a MacArthur Fellow in 2011.