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Light-activated catalyst makes syngas greener

System highly stable, has high selectivity

by Leigh Krietsch Boerner
January 17, 2020 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 98, ISSUE 3


Credit: John Mark Martirez/UCLA
This light-activated syngas catalyst features isolated Ru sites that deter C–C bonds, known for decreasing catalyst efficiency, from forming on its surface.

Synthesis gas, or syngas, is a feedstock for multiple industrial processes, including the Haber-Bosch process for making ammonia. Syngas is a mixture of carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, and hydrogen. Gasification plants, which make syngas from coal, natural gas, and other sources, use catalysts to break apart fuels at around 800 °C. Naomi Halas and coworkers at Rice University have now come up with a greener way to make syngas (Nat. Energy 2020, DOI: 10.1038/s41560-019-0517-9). Using light to activate a nanoparticle catalyst made of copper antennas and single ruthenium atom reactor sites, the team was able to make syngas at around 200 °C. Their system is stable up to 50 h with 99% selectivity. Current industrial syngas catalysts are less robust because they’re susceptible to coking, a C–C bond-forming process that leads to the growth of a carbonaceous material that can block active sites and poison the catalyst. “By having isolated reactive sites, they’re not next door to another active site, so you can’t make C–C bonds very easily,” Halas says. The group has licensed the technology to Syzygy Plasmonics, a company Halas cofounded, to adapt the technology for industry. This could provide a greener path to syngas, which in turn could reduce carbon emissions and energy use in many industrial processes.



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