Smart Cleantech Catalysts

The problem for scientists and engineers has been that in order to tune a catalyst to do what is desired, you need to know how it adapts during a reaction. Trouble is, watching catalysts in action has escaped the reach of scientists until now.

With the aid of powerful spectroscopy technology, U.S. Department of Energy Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory scientists observed catalysts restructuring themselves in response to various gases swirling around them.

The spectroscopy helps provide a window into these reactions for tuning catalysts. These insights are expected to help improve pollution control as well as fuel cell technologies. Smarter catalysts hold promise for removing toxins from water and helping feed hydrogen fuel cells.

Scientists used an advanced spectroscopy system at Berkeley Lab’s Advanced Light Source to study nanoparticles composed of two catalytic metals.

In the lab, Gabor Somorjai, a researcher who holds joint appointments with the Berkeley Lab’s Materials Sciences Division and UC Berkeley’s department of chemistry, teamed up with spectroscopy expert Miquel Salmeron of Berkeley Lab’s Materials Sciences Division and UC Berkeley’s department of materials sciences and engineering.

The two scientists observed how particles changed their composition in the presence of different reactants. Prior to these observations, scientists had to rely on snapshots of catalysts taken before and after a reaction.

The scientists said that the observations gleaned from watching catalysts change in real time is extremely valuable in helping design smart catalysts that change as a reaction evolves.

Armed with this information, scientists think they can develop nanoparticle catalysts and reactants tailored to most efficiently yield a product, whether it’s gasoline or cleaner emissions.


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