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Gold catalysis collaboration wins RSC prize

15 June 2017

Graham Hutchings collaboration award
L to R: Robert Parker, Chief Executive Royal Society of Chemistry; Peter Johnston, Johnson Matthey; Graham Hutchings, Cardiff University; Maggie Philbin OBE.

The commercialisation of a ground-breaking catalyst by Cardiff University and UK chemicals company Johnson Matthey has been honoured at the Royal Society of Chemistry’s annual awards.

The development of the catalyst, which is made from gold and is used to make vast quantities of vinyl chloride (VCM), the main ingredient of PVC, was recognised with the Industry-Academia Collaboration Award at a ceremony in Manchester.

The remarkable ability of gold to speed up reactions was first discovered by Professor Graham Hutchings and his team at the Cardiff Catalysis Institute (CCI).

The team’s research identified that gold could be an ideal material to facilitate the production of VCM, which since the 1950s has been produced using a mercury catalyst. Not only is mercury extremely harmful to the environment, the World Health Organisation has identified the chemical as posing a serious threat to human health.

Since this discovery, the CCI has worked closely with Johnson Matthey who have trialed the gold catalyst in a pilot plant and reactors in China, and a full-scale factory is now in place to produce hundreds of tons of gold catalyst for the production of VCM.

A complete overhaul in catalyst formulation

It was the first time in over 50 years that a complete overhaul in catalyst formulation had been implemented for the production of any commodity chemical, and has helped to significantly reduce the production of mercury.

In May this year, the EU ratified the Minimata Convention on mercury, ensuring that all parties are obliged to tackle primary mining of mercury, mercury product phase-outs, mercury use, trade, emissions and disposal.

On receiving the award, Professor Hutchings said: “We are absolutely delighted to win this award, specifically as it is recognition of a collaboration that we’ve worked hard to build and maintain over several years and one which has provided a final product that is having a real impact on the world we live in today.”

The Chemistry Means Business awards are the Royal Society of Chemistry’s annual flagship event for industry, bringing together start-ups, small and medium enterprises, multinational organisations, and academic entrepreneurs from across the UK and Europe.

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