Researchers convert CO to CO2 with a single metal atom

March 5, 2018, Washington State University
Tufts University researcher Charles Sykes has demonstrated for the first time that a single metal atom can act as a catalyst in converting carbon monoxide into carbon dioxide, a chemical reaction that is commonly used in catalytic converters to remove harmful gases from car exhaust. Credit: Tufts University

Researchers from Washington State University and Tufts University have demonstrated for the first time that a single metal atom can act as a catalyst in converting carbon monoxide into carbon dioxide, a chemical reaction that is commonly used in catalytic converters to remove harmful gases from car exhaust.

The research, published today in the journal Nature Catalysis, could improve catalytic converter design and also has major implications in the field of computational catalysis.

Overcoming lower engine temperatures

As engines have become more efficient, their combustion has become lower, making it harder for to work and creating, paradoxically, more harmful emissions. Car companies have struggled to meet strict emissions standards that aim to protect human health. Volkswagen was even found guilty of having developed a software workaround to cheat on emissions testing.

While studying low-temperature catalysts, the researchers, led by Jean-Sabin McEwen, assistant professor in WSU's Voiland School of Chemical Engineering and Bioengineering, and Charles Sykes, a professor of chemistry at Tufts University, got interested in single metal atoms and their ability to act as catalysts at lower temperatures.

"Most of the harmful chemicals in your exhaust such as and nitrogen oxide are emitted when starting up the engine," said McEwen. "The lower the temperature, the harder it is to neutralize these ."

Carbon monoxide to carbon dioxide

In their paper, the researchers demonstrated that the reaction can work with single platinum atoms on a copper oxide support near room temperature. The single platinum atom holds the carbon monoxide in place while the copper oxide supplies the oxygen to convert it into .

"This is a benchmark study that can guide the design of the next generation of low temperature catalytic converters," said Sykes.

Washington State University researcher Jean-Sabin McEwen has demonstrated for the first time that a single metal atom can act as a catalyst in converting carbon monoxide into carbon dioxide, a chemical reaction that is commonly used in catalytic converters to remove harmful gases from car exhaust. Credit: Washington State University

Since catalytic converters use rare and expensive metals like platinum, reducing the use of those elements down to the single atom level could also reduce costs, he added.

Their research also conclusively answers a longstanding debate in the scientific world on whether a single metal atom could act as a catalyst for the oxidation of carbon monoxide to dioxide at low temperatures or whether such a reaction requires a cluster of atoms.

Explore further: New catalyst meets challenge of cleaning exhaust from modern engines

More information: Andrew J. Therrien et al, An atomic-scale view of single-site Pt catalysis for low-temperature CO oxidation, Nature Catalysis (2018). DOI: 10.1038/s41929-018-0028-2

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granville583762
5 / 5 (2) Mar 05, 2018
Ruined by an environmental fix
If there was a catalytic convertor to remove nitrous oxide the perfectly running Volkswagen Tiguan automatic diesel would still be getting 55mpg, after the fix it is getting 35mpg and it is noisy, rattles, vibrates in 7th just above its tick over speed, it cannot stall it has the best automatic in the world you never knew it was changing gear, you do now after the engine fix it has upset the smooth diesel matched to its gear box so its double clutch is out of synch. They could have just fitted an add-blue tank removing 90% of nitrous oxides and no one would known, But No! They did the reverse. Now emits more emissions, use's more fuel, produces less power and is noisy and unpleasant, at what used to be its most efficient tick over speed at 30mph it used to get over 60mpg, not now you're talking in the 20s to 30s mpg. It is still the best car in the world ruined by environmental fix when it should have had an add-blue tank!

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