A new sponge-like material that is black, brittle and freeze-dried (just like the ice cream astronauts eat) can pull off some pretty impressive feats. Designed by Northwestern University chemists, it can remove mercury from polluted water, easily separate hydrogen from other gases and, perhaps most impressive of all, is a more effective catalyst than the one currently used to pull sulfur out of crude oil.
Hydrodesulfurization might be a mouthful, but it is also a widely used catalytic chemical process that removes sulfur from natural gas and refined petroleum products, such as gasoline and diesel and jet fuels. Without the process, which is highly optimized, we'd be burning sulfur, which contributes to acid rain.
Scientists have tried to improve hydrodesulfurization, or HDS, but have made no progress. Many consider it an optimized process. The Northwestern researchers, in collaboration with colleagues at Western Washington University, report that their material is twice as active as the conventional catalyst used in HDS while at the same time being made of the same parts.
The material, cobalt-molybdenum-sulfur, is a new class of chalcogels, a family of material discovered only a few years ago at Northwestern. (Chalcogels are random networks of metal-sulfur atoms with very high surface areas.) The new chalcogel is made from common elements, is stable when exposed to air or water and can be used as a powder.
Details of the cobalt-molybdenum-sulfur chalcogel and its properties will be published online May 17 by the journal Nature Chemistry. This is the first report of chalcogels being used for catalysis and gas separation.
"I was surprised at the impressive activity of our catalyst, given how difficult it has been to improve HDS," said Mercouri G. Kanatzidis, the paper's senior author. "In principle, our catalyst could process and desulphurize twice as much crude oil as the same amount of conventional catalyst.
|Contact: Megan Fellman|