Nanotechnology to provide cleaner diesel engines

(Nanowerk News) It may seem paradoxical that a rare precious metal such as platinum is used in something as simple as smoky truck exhaust systems—nonetheless, this has always been a fundamental technological principle.

When it comes to diesel engine catalysts—i.e. the element responsible for cleansing exhaust fumes particles—platinum has unfortunately proved to be the only viable option, which has resulted in material costs alone accounting for half of the price of a diesel catalyst.

Such dependency on precious metals is both costly and unsustainable, which is why InnovationsFonden invested an impressive DKK 15 million—half of the total budget—in a project to find new catalyst materials based on nanotechnology.

The collaborative project involves Aarhus University, Danish Technological Institute, Dinex A/S tasked with production—and finally DTU, where Professor Ib Chorkendorff will bring more than 25 years’ experience in experimental surface physics, nanotechnology and catalysis to bear.

“I have devoted myself exclusively to catalysts and surface physics since 1987. I am therefore excited by the prospect of my research finding a specific technological application,” says Ib Chorkendorff, who usually works with catalysts and nanomaterials at basic research level.
New catalysts
In essence, Aarhus University has developed a new way to manufacture catalysts and is now assessing the further development options that are opening up.
“Our idea is to try and make better catalysts for diesel engines than those currently available, and in particular, to find a viable alternative to platinum, which is, of course, a very expensive raw material,” says Ib Chorkendorff.
“We are focusing on nanoparticles because we want to maximize the surface area, but objects don’t like surfaces—two drops of water merge into one large drop to reduce surface energy, for example. The art is to create small reactive nanoparticles and keep them apart so they don’t merge together. The greater the surface area, the less material you require,” explains Ib Chorkendorff.
Each time you optimize the platinum surface, you save material and thus achieve greater effect at less cost.
Dinex A/S, the company looking to transform the research behind the new technology into new catalysts for the global market, has found it invaluable working with someone of Chorkendorff’s calibre:
“We believe that collaboration between the business sector and the research community is a win-win situation. Such partnerships hold huge untapped potential,” says Lars Christian Larsen, R & D Director, Dinex.
With the assistance of Ib Chorkendorff and the rest of the team, he hopes to achieve a 25 per cent platinum reduction, which will rank Dinex among global leaders in catalyst production.
The project will be launched in the autumn, and in addition to Ib Chorkendorffs 25 years of experience and insight, DTU’s contribution will include a PhD student or a postdoc.
Source: By Bertel Henning Jensen, Technical University of Denmark
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