Scientists at Australia’s RMIT have developed a tiny sponge with big potential, and say the micron-sized material can be used to convert discarded cooking oil into biodiesel in a very cost-effective manner. And the catalyst is no one-trick pony, with the ability to also turn other waste products into valuable building blocks for a range of materials.
The sponge-like material is a new type of ultra-efficient catalyst for turning complex molecules into raw materials. The RMIT team behind it actually describes it as the first of its kind, in that the ability to carry out a series of different chemical reactions within the one material while offering a high degree of control over the output is unprecedented.
“Catalysts have previously been developed that can perform multiple simultaneous reactions, but these approaches offer little control over the chemistry and tend to be inefficient and unpredictable,” says co-lead investigator Professor Karen Wilson. “Our bio-inspired approach looks to nature’s catalysts – enzymes – to develop a powerful and precise way of performing multiple reactions in a set sequence. It’s like having a nanoscale production line for chemical reactions – all housed in one, tiny and super-efficient catalyst particle.”