The European Commission has awarded €4m to support carbon-based catalysis research. It is hoped that advancements in the field of metal-free catalysis will alleviate Europe’s reliance on precious metal catalysts. Metal-based catalysis is a major consumer of precious metals such as platinum. However, as there is no natural abundance of platinum group metals within Europe, metal-free catalysis would lead to a dramatic reduction in demand for imported materials and thus help the continent’s process industry to maintain its competitiveness.
‘FREECATS – Doped carbon nanostructures as metal-free catalysts’ involves nine European research institutions and technology enterprises, and is coordinated by the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU). The project will focus on three fields in which metal-free materials could replace traditional catalysts: fuel cell technology, olefin production and water purification.
Professor Magnus Rønning is leading a new EU funded effort to find metal-free catalysts
Currently, metal-based catalysts are used in fuel cells to facilitate electricity generation, producers of polyolefin materials use platinum-based catalysts to convert propane and ethane into light olefins, and organic compounds in water can be rendered harmless by means of traditional catalysis methods. The team contends that through the development of carbon-based catalysis capabilities, all three processes can be made less costly and more environmentally friendly.
"Metal-free materials with catalysis properties that are equally as good as precious metals do not exist naturally, so FREECATS is aimed at developing new materials," explained Professor Magnus Rønning, from Catalysis Group at NTNU’s Department of Chemical Engineering. "Using nanotechnology, with atoms as building blocks, we can build carbon structures capable of binding or transforming substances in desired ways.
"Catalysts often contribute to parallel chemical reactions that may compete with the main reaction," he continued. "Metal-free catalysts have a higher selectivity; they are more reliable in performing the reactions we want. This reduces the risk of reactions creating unwanted waste products that may be harmful to the environment."