Scientists build 'nanobowls' to protect catalysts needed for better biofuel production

October 26, 2012

It may sound like a post-season football game for very tiny players, but the "nanobowl" has nothing to do with sports and everything to do with improving the way biofuels are produced. That's the hope of a team of scientists from the Institute for Atom Efficient Chemical Transformations (IACT), an Energy Frontier Research Center led by Argonne National Laboratory (ANL), and including Northwestern University, the University of Wisconsin and Purdue University. The team is using a layering technique developed for microchip manufacturing to build nanoscale (billionth of a meter) "bowls" that protect miniature metal catalysts from the harsh conditions of biofuel refining. Furthermore, the size, shape, and composition of the nanobowls can easily be tailored to enhance their functionality and specificity.

The team, led by Jeffrey Elam, principal chemist in ANL's Energy Systems Division, will present its research during the AVS 59th International Symposium and Exhibition, held Oct. 28-Nov. 2, 2012, in Tampa, Fla.

In recent years, nanoparticles of metals such as platinum, iridium and palladium supported on metal oxide surfaces have been considered as catalysts to convert biomass - organic matter from plants such as corn, sugarcane and sorghum - into alternative fuels as efficiently as possible. Unfortunately, under typical biorefining conditions where liquid water may reach temperatures of 200 degrees Celsius (392 degrees Fahrenheit) and pressures of 4,100 kilopascals (600 pounds per square inch), the tiny metal nanoparticles can agglomerate into much larger particles which are not catalytically active. Additionally, these extreme conditions can dissolve the support.

"We needed a method to protect the catalysts without reducing their ability to function as desired during biorefining," Elam says. "Our solution was to use atomic layer deposition [ALD], a process commonly employed by the semiconductor industry to lay down single-atom thick layers of material, to build a 'nanobowl' around the metal particle."

To create a matrix of nanobowls containing active catalysts, the researchers first use ALD to deposit millions of metal nanoparticles (the eventual nanocatalysts) onto a support surface. The next step is to add an organic species that will only bind to the metal nanoparticles and not to the support. This organic "protecting group" serves as the mold around which the nanobowls are shaped.

"Again using ALD, we deposit layer upon layer of an inorganic material known as niobia [niobium pentoxide] around the protecting group to define the shape of the nanobowls in our matrix," Elam says. "Once the desired niobia thickness is reached, we remove the protecting groups and leave our metal nanoparticles sheltered in nanobowls that prevent them from agglomerating. In addition, the niobia coating protects the substrate from the extreme conditions encountered during biorefining."

Elam says that the nanobowls themselves can be made to enhance the overall functionality of the catalyst matrix being produced. "At a specific height, we can put down ALD layers of catalytically active material into the nanobowl walls and create a co-catalyst that will work in tandem with the nanocatalysts. Also, by carefully selecting the organic protecting group, we can tune the size and shape of the nanobowl cavities to target specific molecules in the biomass mixture."

Elam and his colleagues have shown in the laboratory that the nanobowl/nanoparticle combination can survive the high-pressure, high-temperature aqueous environment of biomass refining. They also have demonstrated size and shape selectivity for the nanobowl catalysts. The next goal, he says, is to precisely measure how well the catalysts perform in an actual biomass refining process.
-end-
MORE INFORMATION ABOUT THE AVS 59th INTERNATIONAL SYMPOSIUM & EXHIBITION

The Tampa Convention Center is located along the Riverwalk in the heart of downtown Tampa at 333 S. Franklin St., Tampa, Florida, 33602.

USEFUL LINKS:

Main meeting website: http://www2.avs.org/symposium/AVS59/pages/greetings.html

Technical Program: http://www.avssymposium.org/

Housing and Travel Information: http://www2.avs.org/symposium/AVS59/pages/housing_travel.html

PRESS REGISTRATION

The AVS Pressroom will be located in the Tampa Convention Center. Your complimentary media badge will allow you to utilize the pressroom to write, interview, collect new product releases, review material, or just relax. The media badge will also admit you, free of charge, into the exhibit area, lectures, and technical sessions, as well as the Welcome Mixer on Monday evening and the Awards Ceremony and Reception on Wednesday night. Pressroom hours are Monday-Thursday, 8-5 p.m.

To register, please contact: Della Miller, AVS E-mail: della@avs.org

This news release was prepared for AVS by the American Institute of Physics (AIP).

ABOUT AVS

Founded in 1953, AVS is a not-for-profit professional society that promotes communication between academia, government laboratories, and industry for the purpose of sharing research and development findings over a broad range of technologically relevant topics. Its symposia and journals provide an important forum for the dissemination of information in many areas of science and technology, enabling a critical gateway for the rapid insertion of scientific breakthroughs into manufacturing realities.

American Institute of Physics

Related Nanoparticles Articles from Brightsurf:

An ionic forcefield for nanoparticles
Nanoparticles are promising drug delivery tools but they struggle to get past the immune system's first line of defense: proteins in the blood serum that tag potential invaders.

Phytoplankton disturbed by nanoparticles
Products derived from nanotechnology are efficient and highly sought-after, yet their effects on the environment are still poorly understood.

How to get more cancer-fighting nanoparticles to where they are needed
University of Toronto Engineering researchers have discovered a dose threshold that greatly increases the delivery of cancer-fighting drugs into a tumour.

Nanoparticles: Acidic alert
Researchers of Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitaet (LMU) in Munich have synthesized nanoparticles that can be induced by a change in pH to release a deadly dose of ionized iron within cells.

3D reconstructions of individual nanoparticles
Want to find out how to design and build materials atom by atom?

Directing nanoparticles straight to tumors
Modern anticancer therapies aim to attack tumor cells while sparing healthy tissue.

Sweet nanoparticles trick kidney
Researchers engineer tiny particles with sugar molecules to prevent side effect in cancer therapy.

A megalibrary of nanoparticles
Using straightforward chemistry and a mix-and-match, modular strategy, researchers have developed a simple approach that could produce over 65,000 different types of complex nanoparticles.

Dialing up the heat on nanoparticles
Rapid progress in the field of metallic nanotechnology is sparking a science revolution that is likely to impact all areas of society, according to professor of physics Ventsislav Valev and his team at the University of Bath in the UK.

Illuminating the world of nanoparticles
Scientists at the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology Graduate University (OIST) have developed a light-based device that can act as a biosensor, detecting biological substances in materials; for example, harmful pathogens in food samples.

Read More: Nanoparticles News and Nanoparticles Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.