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Developments in nanotechnology are impacting industries globally, and applications relevant to the advancement of nanoparticle use are vast. Improvements are being made in catalysts by including nanoparticles, and they have already been put to use in construction, clean energy, and aviation.
Nanoparticles and their Benefits
The use of nanoparticles in a catalyst has the benefit of not only improving the catalytic process, but they also minimize risks to both the environment and human health. In particular, by helping create the shift to cleaner and safer processes, with materials that cause less negative impacts. Nanotechnology techniques developed in the field of catalytic processes demonstrate how existing low‐quality materials can be substituted with alternative nanoparticles, helping the process to be greener and more sustainable.
By improving the catalytic process and the sustainability and environmental impact of the method, we have seen the rapid adoption of this kind of nanotechnology. But how does it work?
Catalysts have been used to speed up chemical reactions for around 200 years. Almost two centuries ago, chemists discovered that certain chemicals could be added into a process, to have the impact of accelerating a reaction but without being consumed by it. Nowadays, most chemical products that are commercially produced have had catalysts involved in their production, making them essential to not only the chemical industry but to those industries that rely on chemical products.
Using Nanoparticles to Improve Catalytic Processes
In recent years, a lot of research has been done to explore how nanoparticles can be used to improve the catalytic process. Findings that have shown nanoparticles to have unique and incredibly useful properties that are different from their properties as compound materials.
Nanoparticles improve catalysts in two main ways. The first is that, due to their small size, they have a greatly increased surface-to-volume ratio. This strongly increases the specific catalytic activity because the chemical reactions occur on the surface of the particle. Therefore, the larger the surface area available, the faster the reaction time.
The small size of nanoparticles brings with it quantum confinement effects. These effects can alter the chemical characteristics of some nanoparticles, leading them to give off different energy levels, and impact on the catalytic activity and selectivity.
Applications of Nanoparticles
One example of nanoparticles being used to improve catalysts can be seen in self-cleaning windows.
New buildings are being built with the capacity to clean themselves with the help of nanoparticles. The window panes are coated with a nanoparticulate substance, which is activated when the light hits it, stimulating a reaction that breaks down dirt on the glass.
Further examples of important current uses include improving the economic catalytic combustion of JP-10 aviation fuel through the use of a hydrocarbon fuel soluble nanocatalyst. This has the impact of making aviation more cost-effective and sustainable.
Demonstrations of this technology in the energy sector include using nanocatalysts in biomass gasification to produce high syngas and biomass pyrolysis for the production of bio-oil, as well as to produce biodiesel from waste cooking oil. The use of nanostructured indium oxide catalysts is also being utilized in the production of hydrogen through steam reforming.
The use of nanoparticles and nanotechnology in improving catalysts has a strong future. The applications we are currently seeing are just the tip of the iceberg. As research and development continue to snowball, we’ll see a rapid expansion of their uses across all industries.