First metallic nanoparticles resistant to extreme heat

November 30, 2009

A University of Pittsburgh team overcame a major hurdle plaguing the development of nanomaterials such as those that could lead to more efficient catalysts used to produce hydrogen and render car exhaust less toxic. The researchers reported Nov. 29 in Nature Materials the first demonstration of high-temperature stability in metallic nanoparticles, the vaunted next-generation materials hampered by a vulnerability to extreme heat.

Götz Veser, an associate professor and CNG Faculty Fellow of chemical and petroleum engineering in Pitt's Swanson School of Engineering, and Anmin Cao, the paper's lead author and a postdoctoral researcher in Veser's lab, created metal-alloy particles in the range of 4 nanometers that can withstand temperatures of more than 850 degrees Celsius, at least 250 degrees more than typical metallic . Forged from the catalytic metals platinum and rhodium, the highly reactive particles work by dumping their heat-susceptible components as temperatures rise, a quality Cao likened to a gecko shedding its tail in self-defense.

"The natural instability of particles at this scale is an obstacle for many applications, from sensors to fuel production," Veser said. "The amazing potential of nanoparticles to open up completely new fields and allow for dramatically more efficient processes has been shown in laboratory applications, but very little of it has translated to real life because of such issues as heat sensitivity. For us to reap the benefits of nanoparticles, they must withstand the harsh conditions of actual use."

Veser and Cao present an original approach to stabilizing metallic catalysts smaller than 5 nanometers. Materials within this size range boast a higher surface area and permit near-total particle utilization, allowing for more efficient reactions. But they also fuse together at around 600 degrees Celsius—lower than usual reaction temperatures for many catalytic processes—and become too large. Attempts to stabilize the metals have involved encasing them in heat-resistant nanostructures, but the most promising methods were only demonstrated in the 10- to 15-nanometer range, Cao wrote. Veser himself has designed oxide-based nanostructures that stabilized particles as small as 10 nanometers.

For the research in , he and Cao blended platinum and rhodium, which has a high melting point. They tested the alloy via a methane combustion reaction and found that the composite was not only a highly reactive catalyst, but that the particles maintained an average size of 4.3 , even during extended exposure to 850-degree heat. In fact, small amounts of 4-nanometer particles remained after the temperature topped 950 degrees Celsius, although the majority had ballooned to eight-times that size.

Veser and Cao were surprised to find that the alloy did not simply endure the heat. It instead sacrificed the low-tolerance platinum then reconstituted itself as a rhodium-rich to finish the reaction. At around 700 degrees Celsius, the platinum-rhodium alloy began to melt. The platinum "bled" from the particle and formed larger particles with other errant platinum, leaving the more durable alloyed particles to weather on. Veser and Cao predicted that this self-stabilization would occur for all metal catalysts alloyed with a second, more durable metal.

Source: University of Pittsburgh

Explore further: Pitt professor designs less-risky reactor for clean, safe energy

Related Stories

Recommended for you

New nanomaterial maintains conductivity in 3-D

September 4, 2015

An international team of scientists has developed what may be the first one-step process for making seamless carbon-based nanomaterials that possess superior thermal, electrical and mechanical properties in three dimensions.

Graphene made superconductive by doping with lithium atoms

September 2, 2015

(Phys.org)—A team of researchers from Germany and Canada has found a way to make graphene superconductive—by doping it with lithium atoms. In their paper they have uploaded to the preprint server arXiv, the team describes ...

Making nanowires from protein and DNA

September 3, 2015

The ability to custom design biological materials such as protein and DNA opens up technological possibilities that were unimaginable just a few decades ago. For example, synthetic structures made of DNA could one day be ...

For 2-D boron, it's all about that base

September 2, 2015

Rice University scientists have theoretically determined that the properties of atom-thick sheets of boron depend on where those atoms land.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.