SALT LAKE CITY, Sept. 29, 2011 University of Utah chemists developed a method to design and test new catalysts, which are substances that speed chemical reactions and are crucial for producing energy, chemicals and industrial products. By using the new method, the chemists also made a discovery that will make it easier to design future catalysts.
The discovery: the sizes and electronic properties of catalysts interact to affect how well a catalyst performs, and are not independent factors as was thought previously. Chemistry Professor Matt Sigman and doctoral student Kaid Harper, report their findings in the Friday, Sept. 30, 2011, issue of the journal Science.
"It opens our eyes to how to design new catalysts that we wouldn't necessarily think about designing, for a broad range of reactions," Sigman says. "We're pretty excited."
Sigman believes the new technique for designing and testing catalysts "is going to be picked up pretty fast," first by academic and then by industrial chemists, who "will see it's a simple way to rapidly design better catalysts."
The new study was funded by the National Science Foundation.
'Catalysts Make the World Go 'Round'
Catalysts speed chemical reactions without being consumed by those reactions. Their importance to society and the economy is tough to overstate. Products made with catalysts include medicines, fuels, foods and fertilizers.
Ninety percent of U.S. chemical manufacturing processes involve catalysts, which also are used to make more than one-fifth of all industrial products. Those processes consume much energy, so making catalytic reactions more efficient would both save energy and reduce emissions of climate-warming carbon dioxide gas.
"Catalysts make the world go 'round," says Sigman. "Catalysts are how we make molecules more efficiently and, more important, make molecules that can't be made using any other method."
|Contact: Lee Siegel|
University of Utah