New zeolite catalyst design tech to expedite production of specialty chemicals

By Deanna Utroske contact

- Last updated on GMT

© Getty Images \ (Wavebreakmedia)
© Getty Images \ (Wavebreakmedia)

Related tags: Specialty chemicals, Nanotechnology, Science

Cosmetics and personal care ingredient makers can likely benefit from recent research published in Nature Materials that shows synthesizing finned zeolites can increase catalyst efficiency by 3 times.

Researchers in the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at the University of Houston, Texas, along with colleagues from around the world, published an article this past August called ‘Finned zeolite catalysts’ that details how carefully synthesized (standard sized) zeolites can up the speed and efficiency of high-speed catalytic reactions that are used to produce chemicals for an array of industries, including beauty.

Without making zeolites smaller, fins improve catalyst efficiency

In the same way that surface area increases the cooling efficiency of an automobile radiator or the rate at which a collagen table dissolves in water, so too does the surface area of a zeolite catalyst increase the rate and efficiency of chemical processes.

By creating zeolites with fins, researchers increased the number of access points for molecules and decreased the amount of time those molecules spent inside the catalyst, which means that the zeolites can do their part in the chemical synthesis process faster and longer.

In the article abstract, Heng Dai, Yufeng Shen, Taimin Yang, Choongsze Lee, Donglong Fu, Ankur Agarwal, Thuy Thanh Le, Michael Tsapatsis, Jeremy C. Palmer, Bert M. Weckhuysen, Paul J. Dauenhauer, Xiaodong Zou, and Jeffrey D. Rimer explain the topic of their work saying, “we present an alternative, facile approach to enhance the mass-transport properties of zeolites by the epitaxial growth of fin-like protrusions on seed crystals.”

And the abstract also details how the team was able to demonstrate the way that fined zeolites function, providing more access pores for molecules to enter the catalyst and moving more molecules through the catalyst faster: “We validate this generalizable methodology on two common zeolites and confirm that fins are in crystallographic registry with the underlying seeds, and that secondary growth does not impede access to the micropores. Molecular modelling and time-resolved titration experiments of finned zeolites probe internal diffusion and reveal substantial improvements in mass transport, consistent with catalytic tests of a model reaction, which show that these structures behave as pseudo-nanocrystals.”

A global effort to advance catalytic reaction technology

Commenting on her lab team’s part in the project (which involved using 3D electron microscopy to characterize the pore and internal structure of the finned zeolites) Xiaodong Zou, professor of inorganic and structural chemistry at Stockholm University, told Jeannie Kever, of the University of Houston, “It is amazing to see how well all these hundreds of individual nanofins are aligned with the parent crystal.”

Jeffrey Rimer, who lead the University of Houston team, told Kever (who wrote up the research for nanowerk.com​) that “the beauty of this new discovery is its potential generalization to a wide range of zeolite materials, using techniques that are easy to incorporate in existing synthesis processes. The ability to control the properties of fins could allow for much greater flexibility in the rational design of zeolite catalysts,” ​he says.

And Kever highlights that, “the discovery has immediate relevance to industry for a host of applications, including the production of fuels, chemicals for plastics and polymers, and reactions that make molecules for food, medicine and personal care products.”

The researcher’s full article, ‘Finned zeolite catalysts’, can be rented or purchased on nature.com or accessed by subscription.

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