Boron nitride reduces the need for platinum

pte20211123004 Products / Innovations, Environment / Energy

Catalyst costs are falling thanks to a new method from Pennsylvania State University

Shiny platinum atoms in holey boron nitride (graphic:, Yu Lei)

State College (pte004 / 11/23/2021 / 06:15) – Foils made of hexagonally arranged boron nitride molecules, which are just as thick as a single one, can possibly be used as a cheap but equivalent alternative to catalysts that contain large amounts of expensive platinum included. Researchers at the Pennsylvania State University have broken individual molecules out of the foil and filled the resulting holes with one or two platinum atoms each.

Cryomilling applied

Conventional catalysts contain billions of precious metal atoms. The researchers knocked out the holes using what is known as cryomilling. This is a grinding process at very low temperatures. Platinum is used as a catalyst for the destruction of nitrogen oxides in car exhaust gases, the conversion of CO2 into valuable products and in many other chemical reactions. The platinum atoms, which accelerate the reactions, cover the surface of a carrier material that only serves as a structural support. This function is taken over by boron nitride in the new material.

Boron nitride is an inert material, it does not react with anything. Therefore, if there are platinum atoms in its holes, their work in catalysis does not matter. The few precious metal atoms therefore do their job 100 percent. “We have thus developed something completely new,” says a delighted materials researcher Maurico Terrones. “The hardest part of this project was convincing the research community that material as inert as boron nitride can be activated so that it can be used as a catalyst support,” said Yu Lei, postdoctoral researcher in physics.

Many uses

The application potential is diverse. The holey material could also be used in energy storage systems and sensors, as well as for cheaper catalysts. In addition, there is a possibility that this technique could be used to activate other inert materials. “We have shown that the necessary chemistry takes place at the atomic level. If it works for boron nitride, it should also work for any other material,” says Terrones.