International Impact Award

1 June 2016

Professor Graham Hutchings

A project which harnessed the power of gold as a commercial catalyst has picked up a prize for International Impact at Cardiff University’s Innovation and Impact Awards 2016.

Scientists in the School of Chemistry, led by Professor Graham Hutchings, devised a gold catalyst that has the potential to replace harmful mercury catalysts which are used in the PVC production process.

The Cardiff chemists teamed up with Johnson Matthey (JM), a UK multinational speciality chemicals and sustainable technologies company. Working in partnership, Cardiff supplied the underpinning science.

A team led by Dr Peter Johnston, Scientific Consultant at Johnson Matthey, then designed and developed a novel highly stable, commercially viable catalyst that uses a very low amount of gold to manufacture Vinyl Chloride Monomer (VCM) – used in the production of PVC.

This non-polluting gold catalyst - now being commercialised in China – outperforms mercury containing catalysts by producing higher yields more cost effectively.

It is the first time in over 50 years that a complete overhaul in catalyst formulation has been implemented for the production of  this  commodity chemical.

Professor Graham Hutchings said: “We are delighted to be recognised for our work as international innovators in cleaning up the global environment. After 2017, a binding international treaty to reduce mercury use means that Acetylene based VCM plants around the world will need to use a mercury-free catalyst, providing there is an economically available alternative. Our project has shown that gold provides the best possible solution.”

Sebastiaan van Haandel, Business Manager, at Johnson Matthey, said: "The award is a recognition of a great collaborative partnership between Cardiff University and Johnson Matthey, both in chemistry and chemical engineering. This novel catalyst, PRICAT™ MFC, is a further example of Johnson Matthey's capabilities in and commitment to sustainable technologies.”

Johnson Matthey has built a world class commercial catalyst manufacturing plant at its Shanghai site, China for the dedicated manufacture and supply of commercial gold on carbon catalyst for the manufacture of VCM in China.