Tuesday, 23 February 2010 09:00

Nanotech discovery may green chemical manufacturing

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McGill researcher develops eco-friendlynanocatalyst

A new nanotech catalyst developed by McGill University ChemistsChao-Jun Li, Audrey Moores and their colleagues offers industry anopportunity to reduce the use of expensive and toxic heavy metals.Catalysts are substances used to facilitate and drive chemicalreactions. Although chemists have long been aware of the ecologicaland economic impact of traditional chemical catalysts and doattempt to reuse their materials, it is generally difficult toseparate the catalyzing chemicals from the finished product. Theteam's discovery does away with this chemical processaltogether.

Li neatly describes the new catalyst as "use a magnet and pull themout!" The technology is known as nanomagnetics and involvesnanoparticles of a simple iron magnet. Nanoparticles are sizedbetween 1 and 100 nanometres (a strand of hair is about 80,000nanometres wide). The catalyst itself is chemically benign and canbe efficiently recycled. In terms of practical applications, theirmethod can already be used to generate the reactions that arerequired for example in pharmaceutical research, and could in thefuture be used to achieve reactions necessary for research in otherindustries and fields.

The discovery was published in Highlights in Chemical Science onJanuary 18, 2010. Li is known as one of the world leading pioneersin green chemistry, an entirely new approach to the science thattries to avoid the use of toxic, petrochemical-based solvents infavour of basic substances.

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