University of Virginia chemical engineers Robert J. Davis and Matthew Neurock have uncovered the key features that control the high reactivity of gold nanoparticles in a process that oxidizes alcohols in water.
The research is an important first step in unlocking the potential of using metal catalysts for developing biorenewable chemicals.
The scientific discovery could one day serve as the foundation for creating a wide range of consumer products from biorenewable carbon feedstocks, as opposed to the petroleum-based chemicals currently being used as common building blocks for commodities such as cosmetics, plastics, pharmaceuticals and fuels.
The researchers’ paper on the subject appears in the journalScience.
The U.Va. researchers have shown that gold — the most inert of all metals — has high catalytic reactivity when placed in alkaline water. They studied the mechanism for oxidizing ethanol and glycerol into acids, such as acetic acid and glyceric acid, which are used in everything from food additives to glues, by using gold and platinum as catalysts.