Public Release: 

Water-cleaning chemical made 'on-demand' with new group of catalysts

Quick and efficient way of producing hydrogen peroxide could help provide clean water to the poorest and most remote populations in the world

Cardiff University

A quick, cheap and highly efficient method for producing a water-purifying chemical has been developed by researchers at Cardiff University.

The team, from the Cardiff Catalyst Institute, Lehigh University and the Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory in the USA, have developed a new group of catalysts that can produce hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) on-demand in a simple one-step process, opening up the possibility of manufacturing the chemical in some of the poorest, remote and disaster-stricken areas of the world.

Their results have been published in the journal Science. A video explaining the work of the Cardiff Catalysis Institute can be viewed here.

"Using our new catalyst, we've created a method of efficiently producing H2O2 on-demand in a quick, one-step process," said co-author of the study Dr Simon Freakley from the Cardiff Catalysis Institute.

"Being able to produce H2O2 directly opens up a whole host of possibilities, most notably in the field of water purification where it would be indispensable to be able to produce the chemical on-site where safe and clean drinking water is at a premium."

Over four million tonnes of H2O2 are produced by industry each year, predominantly through a large, multi-step process, which requires highly concentrated solutions of H2O2 to be transported before dilution at the point of use. Current uses of H2O2 include paper bleaching, disinfecting and water treatment and in the chemical synthesis industry.

Though centralised systems adequately supply clean water to billions of households around the world, many people still do not have access to these large-scale water supplies and must therefore rely on decentralised systems for a safe source of water.

The team, led by Professor Graham Hutchings, has previously developed a state-of-the-art catalyst made from palladium and gold nanoparticles that helped to create H2O2 from hydrogen and oxygen.

Now the team have shown that gold can be replaced with five different readily available metals, including tin, zinc and cobalt, to form a much cheaper and more efficient group of catalysts for this specific reaction.

Co-author of the study Professor Graham Hutchings said: "Our new catalyst shows that it is possible to achieve equally high utilisation of hydrogen to form hydrogen peroxide by replacing the gold in the catalysts with cheap readily available metals, therefore significantly reducing costs.

"Rather than replace the current industrial process, we envisage this catalyst being used where low concentrations of hydrogen peroxide are required. For example, we could see our catalyst being used in decentralised water purification systems in which the speedy, on-demand production of hydrogen peroxide would be essential.

"We are already in discussions with industry to see how this catalyst can be developed further."


Notes to editors

1. For further information contact:
Michael Bishop
Communications & Marketing
Cardiff University
Tel: 02920 874499

2. Cardiff University is recognised in independent government assessments as one of Britain's leading teaching and research universities and is a member of the Russell Group of the UK's most research intensive universities. The 2014 Research Excellence Framework ranked the University 5th in the UK for research excellence. Among its academic staff are two Nobel Laureates, including the winner of the 2007 Nobel Prize for Medicine, University Chancellor Professor Sir Martin Evans. Founded by Royal Charter in 1883, today the University combines impressive modern facilities and a dynamic approach to teaching and research. The University's breadth of expertise encompasses: the College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences; the College of Biomedical and Life Sciences; and the College of Physical Sciences and Engineering, along with a longstanding commitment to lifelong learning. Cardiff's flagship Research Institutes are offering radical new approaches to pressing global problems.

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