Scientists develop environmentally friendly way to produce propylene oxide using silver nanoclusters

Apr 08, 2010
Argonne scientists (from left) Stefan Vajda, Larry Curtiss and Jeff Greeley have developed a new way of creating propylene that eliminates the many environmentally unfriendly by-products.

Scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy's Argonne National Laboratory have identified a new class of silver-based catalysts for the production of the industrially useful chemical propylene oxide that is both environmentally friendly and less expensive.

"The production of oxide has a significant amount of by-products that are harmful to the environment, including chlorinated or peroxycarboxylic waste," said chemist Stefan Vajda of Argonne's Materials Science Division and Center for . "We have identified nanoclusters of silver as a catalyst that produce this chemical with few by-products at low temperatures."

Propylene oxide is commonly used in the creation of plastics and propylene glycols for paints, household detergents and automotive brake fluids.

The study is a result of a highly collaborative team that involved five Argonne Divisions and collaborators from the Fritz-Haber-Institut in Berlin and from the University of Illinois in Chicago, including a collaboration between the experimental effort led by Stefan Vajda and the theoretical analysis led by materials chemist Larry Curtiss and nanoscientist Jeff Greeley.

Large silver particles have been used to produce propylene oxide from propylene, but have suffered from a low selectivity or low conversion to propylene oxide, creating a large amount of carbon dioxide. Vajda discovered that nanoscale clusters of silver, consisting of both three atoms as well as larger clusters of 3.5 in size, are highly active and selective catalysts for the production of propylene oxide.

Curtiss and Greeley then modeled the underlying mechanism behind why these ultrasmall of silver were so effective in creating propylene oxide. They discovered that the open shell of the silver catalysts was the impetus behind the nanoclusters selectivity.

"Propylene oxide is a building block in the creation of several other industrially relevant chemicals, but the current methods of creating it are not efficient," Curtiss said.

"This is basically a holy grail reaction," remarked Greeley. "The work opens a new chapter in the field of silver as a for propene epoxidation," added Curtiss.

A paper on this work will be published in the April 9 issue of the journal Science.

Explore further: Mirror-image forms of corannulene molecules could lead to exciting new possibilities in nanotechnology

Related Stories

Argonne to study fuel cell catalysts

May 26, 2005

Argonne National Laboratory will receive $3 million over three years for basic science studies that may lead to improved catalysts for hydrogen fuel cells.

Recommended for you

Tiny graphene drum could form future quantum memory

Aug 28, 2014

Scientists from TU Delft's Kavli Institute of Nanoscience have demonstrated that they can detect extremely small changes in position and forces on very small drums of graphene. Graphene drums have great potential ...

Graphene reinvents the future

Aug 27, 2014

For many scientists, the discovery of one-atom-thick sheets of graphene is hugely significant, something with the potential to affect just about every aspect of human activity and endeavour.

User comments : 0