Liquid Metal Catalysts Key To Greening Chemical Reactions

Nov. 10, 2023
Process moves away from old, energy-intensive catalysts made from solid materials.

Researchers at the University of Sydney’s School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering have discovered a new process that would eliminate the need for energy-intensive solid catalysts. The new process uses liquid metals, in this case dissolving tin and nickel, which gives them unique mobility, enabling them to migrate to the surface of liquid metals and react with input molecules such as canola oil. This results in the rotation, fragmentation and reassembly of canola oil molecules into smaller organic chains, including propylene, a high-energy fuel crucial for many industries.

“Our method offers an unparalleled possibility to the chemical industry for reducing energy consumption and greening chemical reactions,” says Professor Kourosh Kalantar-Zadeh, lead researcher and head of the school in a recent press release. “Atoms in liquid metals are more randomly arranged and have greater freedom of movement than solids. This allows them to easily come into contact with and participate in chemical reactions. Theoretically, they can catalyze chemicals at much lower temperatures – meaning they require far less energy.”

The researchers said their formula could also be used for other chemical reactions by mixing metals using the low-temperature processes.

“It requires such low temperature to catalyze that we could even theoretically do it in the kitchen with the gas cooktop – but don’t try that at home,” says fellow researcher Dr. Junma Tang.