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New method for making tiny catalysts holds promise for air quality
Date:12/15/2010

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. Fortified with iron: It's not just for breakfast cereal anymore. University of Illinois researchers have demonstrated a simpler method of adding iron to tiny carbon spheres to create catalytic materials that have the potential to remove contaminants from gas or liquid.

Civil and environmental engineering professor Mark Rood, graduate student John Atkinson and their team described their technique in the journal Carbon.

Carbon structures can be a support base for catalysts, such as iron and other metals. Iron is a readily available, low-cost catalyst with possible catalytic applications for fuel cells and environmental applications for adsorbing harmful chemicals, such as arsenic or carbon monoxide. Researchers produce a carbon matrix that has many pores or tunnels, like a sponge. The large surface area created by the pores provides sites to disperse tiny iron particles throughout the matrix.

A common source of carbon is coal. Typically, scientists modify coal-based materials into highly porous activated carbon and then add a catalyst. The multi-step process takes time and enormous amounts of energy. In addition, materials made with coal are plagued by ash, which can contain traces of other metals that interfere with the reactivity of the carbon-based catalyst.

The Illinois team's ash-free, inexpensive process takes its carbon from sugar rather than coal.

In one continuous process, it produces tiny, micrometer-sized spheres of porous, spongy carbon embedded with iron nanoparticles all in the span of a few seconds.

"That's what really sets this apart from other techniques. Some people have carbonized and impregnated with iron, but they have no surface area. Other people have surface area but weren't able to load it with iron," Atkinson said. "Our technique provides both the carbon surface and the iron nanoparticles."

The researchers built upon a technique called ultrasonic sp
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Contact: Liz Ahlberg
eahlberg@illinois.edu
217-244-1073
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Source:Eurekalert  

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