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Towards environmentally sustainable catalysts: Atomic level engineering of metallic catalysts for acrylic

Department of Physics

About the Project

This project aims to capitalise on the recent EPSRC and University investment ( ~£4.3 M) for e-STEM, a tool that will have capability to study nano materials in realistic environment under dynamical conditions and external stimuli.
The heterogeneous catalysts are prime example where understanding gas-catalyst interactions on atomic scale is must in order to develop new clean technologies for myriad of materials. This project aims to develop atomically engineered Zr based catalysts, in order to improve the efficiency of the reactions for the production of acrylic. This project will be done in collaboration with Lucite international (one of the main world producers of acrylic plastic, based in UK). The new Zr catalysts are clusters of a just several atoms (between 1 and 10), hence York-Nanocentre will be the only place in the world where studying such nano-materials in realistic
environment and under dynamical conditions and variable temperature will be possible.
Acrylic is a very important material, transparent, 100% recyclable, known since the Second World War and used in a large number of everyday applications due to its highly desirable properties. These include optical transparency, surface hardness, UV stability, chemical resistance, and biocompatibility. This makes acrylics the material of choice for building, car windows, screens for electronic devices as well as contact lenses, cavity filling and bone cement. The standard routes of acrylic production involves acetone and hydrogen cyanide where for each 1 kg a 1.1 kg of toxic salt is produced. The disposal of it (3 billion kg/year
produced) is energetically and environmentally costly. Hence, the importance of developing new heterogeneous catalyst that are environmentally friendly and energy efficient is highly desirable.
This project will determine directly the correlation between the catalysts structure and their functionality in controlled environment. We will be able to study the life of the catalyst (activation/deactivation), Ostwald ripening vs coalescence, and other processes that are critical for the optimisation of the Zr single atoms and multiatom cluster catalysts for real industrial processes.
The importance of this project is twofold, it will provide pathways for industrial impact (besides Lucite, also companies such as JM), and it will demonstrate the benefits of atomistic approach in solving industrially extremely relevant problems by employing the fundamental physical methods.

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