The Toyota Central Research & Development Labs. Inc. in Japan are involved in research to develop catalysts that are controlled at the quantum level. This research path is leading the way towards a new generation of automotive catalytic converters. Success here should have an impact across the board in catalyst research.

Catalytic converters change the toxic fumes of automobile exhaust to less toxic pollutants that only reached the market in the mid-1970s when the oxygen sensor technology made their use a practical engineering solution. Automotive converters are formed of a catalyst – usually in the form of a precious metal such as platinum, palladium, or rhodium – a catalyst support material, and a wash-coat designed to disperse the catalytic materials over a wide surface area.

The research is about catalyst control. Dr. Yoshihide Watanabe, chief researcher at the Toyota Central R&D Labs in Japan said that with a quantum level of control, “We can expect an extreme reduction of precious metal usage in automotive exhaust catalysts and/or fuel cells.”

Dr. Watanabe reviewed research on different types of catalytic reactions involving metal clusters whose sizes were atomically controlled.  The open access link to the full article as a pdf file is here.

Metal cluster chemistry has been developing rapidly since the mid-20th century. A cluster is a group of atoms or molecules formed by interactions varying in strength from very weak to strong. Some naturally occurring clusters are known to be involved in catalytic reactions. The study of metal clusters is inspiring great interest, partially for the potential use of synthetic clusters in industrial applications, such as catalysts in catalytic converters.

Watanabe pointed out that not much research has been done in the area of atomically controlled cluster catalysis, with the exception of studies on carbon monoxide oxidation reaction.

His research indicates that catalytic activity is strongly affected by the electronic structure of clusters, their geometry on a support material, and the interaction between the cluster and the material. Thus, the catalytic activity of clusters can be enhanced by tuning the electronic structure through atomic control of the cluster size and the interaction between the clusters and the support material.

This is important, because enhancing the catalytic activity of some clusters may greatly reduce the utilization of precious metals as catalytic agents. A few studies that try to understand how the catalytic properties of size-controlled clusters are affected at the quantum level. Although several mechanisms for these effects are suggested, the field is still in progress, he said.

Watanabe’s research review leads him in his paper to recommend further studies that investigate how catalytic reaction rates are affected by temperature. He said that applying computer simulations, known as computational chemistry, can lead the way towards developing quantum-controlled catalysts formed from atomically precise clusters.

Regular readers will immediately recognize the potential of a further improvement in catalyst activity. It is encouraging to see that the research is working to sizes and activity at the quantum level. Catalysts are a critical element of fuel production and energy utilization. Small improvements in this field have far reaching consequences across much of the chemistry field and all improvements are welcome.


2 Comments so far

  1. Matt Musson on February 19, 2015 11:10 AM

    Quantum Physic Joke of the Day:

    “What did you do to the cat, Erwin? He looks half dead!”

    Mrs. Schrodinger

  2. Matt Musson on February 20, 2015 8:37 AM

    Quantum Physics Jobe #2

    The Heineken Uncertainty Priciple:
    After 4 beers you have no idea how much you drank!

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