Fool's gold may prove an unlikely alternative to overexploited catalytic materials

Feb 10, 2012

Catalytic materials, which lower the energy barriers for chemical reactions, are used in everything from the commercial production of chemicals to catalytic converters in car engines. However, with current catalytic materials becoming increasingly expensive, scientists are exploring viable alternatives.

Researchers at the University of Cambridge have now discovered that the sulphide material iron pyrite, commonly known as 'Fool's Gold', may hold the answer. Their findings were published online today, 10 February, in Physical Chemistry Chemical Physics.

In the past, sulphur was believed to be one of the most detrimental elements for surface chemical reactions, able to decrease dramatically the reactivity of a catalyst by occupying (poisoning) the "active sites" on the material, but more recently some sulphur materials (for example, molybdenum sulphides) have actually shown interesting of their own.

Using state-of-the-art electronic structure calculations, researchers led by Stephen Jenkins at the University's Department of Chemistry, explored the potential catalytic activity of iron pyrite, the most abundant sulphur mineral on Earth. In their study, the Cambridge researchers focused on the reactions between and (NOx), an extremely poisonous class of compounds produced (among other sources) by car engines and industrial power plants.

Dr Marco Sacchi, the first author on the paper, said: "Recent European legislation has proposed increasingly strict legislative limits on the concentration of NOx that can be emitted by vehicles; therefore the search for new and more efficient catalysts that can capture these molecules and transform them into innocuous gases such as nitrogen and , is urgently relevant."

Developing new catalysts derived from inexpensive minerals, instead of increasingly costly (and rare) , is an important area of research that involves several groups around the world. The next steps for the Cambridge researchers will be to investigate the activity of pyrite surfaces for strategically important industrial reactions, such as the manufacture of ammonia for fertilisers, the production of synthetic hydrocarbon fuels from renewable biomass, and the extraction of hydrogen for use in future fuel cell electric vehicles.

Dr Sacchi added: "The necessity of finding reliable alternatives to overexploited - such as platinum, rhodium and gold - will soon become unavoidable. Experimental work is currently underway in our group, and we hope that our work will ultimately allow us to test the potential for catalytic application of a wide range of sulphidic and carbidic materials. In future, we aim to develop fruitful scientific collaborations with chemical engineering groups and with industrial partners."

Explore further: Scientists learn to control reactions with the shape of a rare-earth catalyst

More information: The paper, "The Interaction of Iron Pyrite with Oxygen, Nitrogen and Nitrogen Oxides: a First-Principles Study", will be published in Physical Chemistry Chemical Physics on online 10 February 2012. (Article citation: Phys. Chem. Chem. Phys., 2012, DOI: 10.1039/C2CP23558G )

Related Stories

Better chemistry through living models

Jun 06, 2007

Scientists at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory will receive $1.98 million from the U.S. Department of Energy over the next three years to emulate nature’s use of enzymes to convert chemicals to energy, PNNL announced ...

Iowa State, Ames Lab researcher hunts for green catalysts

Mar 07, 2011

L. Keith Woo is searching for cleaner, greener chemical reactions. Woo, an Iowa State University professor of chemistry and an associate of the U.S. Department of Energy's Ames Laboratory, has studied catalysts ...

Recommended for you

Breaking benzene

Aug 27, 2014

Aromatic compounds are found widely in natural resources such as petroleum and biomass, and breaking the carbon-carbon bonds in these compounds plays an important role in the production of fuels and valuable ...

User comments : 9

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

TabulaMentis
1 / 5 (5) Feb 10, 2012
The bottom-up approach using spacetime fabric is the best option, as stated in the previous article about a similar material being tested for hydrogen production.

Physorg.com article dated February 9, 2012: "Hydrogen from acidic water: Researchers develop potential low cost alternative to platinum for splitting water."

http://www.physor...num.html

Parsec
5 / 5 (4) Feb 10, 2012
The bottom-up approach using spacetime fabric is the best option, as stated in the previous article about a similar material being tested for hydrogen production.

Physorg.com article dated February 9, 2012: "Hydrogen from acidic water: Researchers develop potential low cost alternative to platinum for splitting water."

http://www.physor...num.html


Space-time fabric?
Urgelt
5 / 5 (5) Feb 10, 2012
Space-time fabric?


You know, the Quantum Vacuum Woof Substrate described in Einleib's Quanticle Theory. Just grab it with your monopole twozers, fold the fabric so the edges parse. Voila! Cheap energy! Cheap catalysis! Invisibility cloaks! Lead to gold!

Why, oh why do scientists refuse to see the Truth?

I have to go take my meds now.
TabulaMentis
1 / 5 (4) Feb 10, 2012
You hippies need a dose of this article:

January 17, 2012 Scientific American article: Is Space Digital.

http://www.scient...-digital
deepsand
3 / 5 (10) Feb 10, 2012
Labeling quanta "digital" is a gross misnomer. Just because something is discrete does not mean that it cannot be analog.

"Digital" is a man made construct that measures what is still an analog universe.
MarkyMark
5 / 5 (2) Feb 11, 2012
The bottom-up approach using spacetime fabric is the best option, as stated in the previous article about a similar material being tested for hydrogen


WTF!
Callippo
1 / 5 (1) Feb 11, 2012
reactions between iron pyrite and nitrogen oxides (NOx)
How stable the mixture of strong reducing agent (like the sulphides) and strong oxidizing agent (like the nitrogen oxides) could be?
Ethelred
3.7 / 5 (3) Feb 11, 2012
You hippies need a dose of this article:
Or better yet they should see this.

See page 2 of the comments:
http://www.physor...ife.html

Ethelred

Graeme
5 / 5 (1) Feb 13, 2012
Well living organisms already use iron sulfur clusters in enzymes, so this possibility is not a surprise. I wouold ahve called NOx as just plain poisonous rather than extremely poisonous, after all NO is produced in humans as part of their metabolism.