Singapore – Researchers from the National University of Singapore are running a special project that has them coat glass laboratory flasks with palladium nanoparticles, allowing people to recycle and reuse valuable metal catalysts ‘easier than ever before’.
Metal nanoparticles are known not to stick to glass, explains research fellow Xiang Fei, who leads the project. Often precious metals like gold are used to catalyse a number of chemical reactions, but they are expensive – so not losing any material is key.
Fei’s team covered the glass with a microscale carpet made of silicone nanofilaments and they coated them with a ‘sticky protein’ similar to the one mussels use to attach themselves to surfaces.
The coated flask still catalysed reactions efficiently (as high as 90%) after begin used 20 times, whereas a commercial catalyst’s efficiency drops significantly after it has been recycled only once. One simply needs to empty and rinse the flasks and start again.
Fei’s stresses that there was no decrease in the catalytic process after yielding several grams of product. Noble metals like platinum and silver can also be treated.
While the nature-inspired innovation is ‘highly versatile’ and could be scaled up to different shapes and sizes, it hasn’t been proven yet if the method would work in industrial-sized reactors.