Why gold is the key to a glittering future
Our newly identified catalyst has the potential to save lives, improve health and clean up the environment.
The manufacture of complex materials like plastic creates too much waste and not enough product. We have been seeking ways of reducing harmful chemicals produced during catalysis.
A golden chance to save lives
Researchers at the School of Chemistry, led by Professor Graham Hutchings, have discovered that gold has the potential to save lives, improve health and clean up the environment.
Gold is the best catalyst for the formation of vinyl chloride, the main ingredient for the production of PVC, and has the potential to replace an environmentally harmful mercury catalyst.
Gold is also used as a catalyst to oxidise carbon monoxide to carbon dioxide. This has potential to be used in natural disasters or domestic settings where carbon monoxide (CO) needs to be removed from the air.
Replacing harmful elements
Gold has the potential to replace the harmful mercury catalyst used in the manufacture of over 20 million tonnes of vinyl chloride monomer (VCM) every year to create PVC.
Catalyst for change
Catalysis is an enabling technology that underpins an estimated80-90% of all manufactured goods. The phenomenon involves a material, which isnot one of the reactants, speeding up a desired chemical reaction without theneed for an increase in temperature.
Commonly used catalysts such as thosecontaining mercury have proven wasteful, environmentally hazardous and evenharmful to human health. Gold, scientists have discovered, is not only a viablealternative catalyst but sometimes, the best possible catalyst.
The research has led to a new process to produce vinyl chloride that does not use mercury.
Two leading organisations have made substantial investments in developing the new catalyst, and the findings have been incorporated into the global policy debate around the use of Mercury and its risks to human health and the environment.
Meet our experts
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- Edwards, J. K. et al. 2009. Switching off hydrogen peroxide hydrogenation in the direct synthesis process. Science 323 (5917), pp.1037-1041. (10.1126/science.1168980)
- Herzing, A. A. et al., 2008. Identification of active gold nanoclusters on iron oxide supports for CO oxidation. Science 321 (5894), pp.1331-1335. (10.1126/science.1159639)
- Conte, M. et al., 2007. Hydrochlorination of acetylene using a supported gold catalyst: A study of the reaction mechanism. Journal of Catalysis 250 (2), pp.231-239. (10.1016/j.jcat.2007.06.018)
- Hughes, M. D. et al., 2005. Tunable gold catalysts for selective hydrocarbon oxidation under mild conditions. Nature 437 (7062), pp.1132-1135. (10.1038/nature04190)
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