University of Adelaide researchers have developed an innovative 3D technique to make catalysts for making fuels and chemicals. The innovative technique is being developed by scientists that could allow Australia to lead the way in catalysts for more sustainable manufacturing of fuels and chemicals.

The team published their findings in the journal Nature Synthesis.

University of Adelaide’s Professor Shizhang Qiao, Director, Centre for Materials in Energy and Catalysis who leads the team said, “We have developed new synthesizing approaches that enable 3D printing techniques to be employed to automatically and efficiently produce customized, single-atom catalysts (SACs). SACs can be tailored across a broad range of industrial applications. Our innovative technique has the potential to be more cost-effective and simpler than current approaches.”

Synthesis procedure for 3D-printed SACs. Image Credit: University of Adelaide, Centre for Materials in Energy and Catalysis. The largest image is behind the paywall at Nature Synthesis.

The components of several precursors, including the affordable natural polymers and transition metal precursors, were mixed to form the printing ink. Afterwards, the ‘scaffold’ was printed directly by a 3D-printer. After the calcination and subsequent post-treatments, the isolated individual atom sites anchored on carbon supports were achieved.

To test the method, the team developed a new group of tailored catalysts with the aim of converting nitrate ions in wastewater to ammonia. Ammonia is one of the most fundamental chemical feedstocks in the world, as it is an indispensable chemical for fertilizer, pharmaceuticals and dyes. It is also considered an important way of storing energy and is a carbon-free energy carrier. As one of the world’s most widespread water pollutants, nitrate ions converted by using catalysts are transformed into a nitrogen source.

“SACs are promising candidates for the next generation of highly efficient catalysts however directly synthesizing SACs is still challenging and expensive,” said Professor Qiao. “Our synthesizing approach allows 3D printing technique to be employed as a promising avenue to manufacture of SACs at different scales, paving the way for using them to achieve sustainable production of valuable fuels and chemicals.”

“By simplifying the way catalysts are manufactured, this new technique has the potential to advance Australia’s status as a global leader in tackling the effects of climate change and help us take the lead in new techniques for making chemicals that benefit society,” Qiao added.

The press release offers that the team’s work will inspire the development of a new generation of advanced catalysts. This new avenue of research is expected to accelerate the development of single-atom catalysts and make them technically and economically available for the chemical engineering industry within 10 years.


This team has to be quite proud of this work. Catalysts are becoming ever more useful across an expanding range of chemical production, effluent management and waste recycling. The field is fundamental to getting many technologies to market at very enticing prices, as well as greatly contributing to the environment’s well-being.

Priced right this kind of product will get adoption. But from a consumer’s point of view it will be invisible other than better products at better prices will be available.


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