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New, greener catalysts are built for speed

Designing more sustainable ways to accelerate chemical reactions

By
9:00am, February 21, 2017
Green catalysts illustration

NEED FOR SPEED  Platinum and other rare metals are commonly used as catalysts, but scientists pursuing greener technologies are searching for more sustainable ways to get reactions going.

Platinum, one of the rarest and most expensive metals on Earth, may soon find itself out of a job. Known for its allure in engagement rings, platinum is also treasured for its ability to jump-start chemical reactions. It’s an excellent catalyst, able to turn standoffish molecules into fast friends. But Earth’s supply of the metal is limited, so scientists are trying to coax materials that aren’t platinum — aren’t even metals — into acting like they are.

For years, platinum has been offering behind-the-scenes hustle in catalytic converters, which remove harmful pollutants from auto exhaust. It’s also one of a handful of rare metals that move along chemical reactions in many well-established industries. And now, clean energy technology opens a new and growing market for the metal. Energy-converting devices like fuel cells being developed to power some types of electric vehicles rely on platinum’s catalytic properties to transform

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