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Cascade reactions on ‘nanozymes’ make chemicals from CO2

By Paul Grad |

An international team of researchers has developed metallic nanoparticles that imitate enzymes to convert carbon dioxide into ethanol and propanol, which are common raw materials for the chemical industry. The team includes professors Justin Gooding and Richard Tilley from the University of New South Wales (Sydney, Australia; www.unsw.edu.au), professor Wolfgang Schuhmann from Ruhr-Universität Bochum (Bochum, Germany; www.ruhr-uni-bochum.de), and professor Corina Andronescu from Universität Duisburg-Essen (Duisburg, Germany; www.uni-due.de).

The team adopted the principle from enzymes that produce complex molecules in multi-step reactions. It transferred this mechanism to metallic nanoparticles, also known as nanozymes. A single enzyme can generate a complex product from a simple starting material. To imitate this, the team synthesized a particle with a silver core surrounded by a porous layer of copper. The silver core is the first active center, the copper layer is the second. Intermediate products formed at the silver core then react in the copper layer to form more complex molecules, which eventually leave the particle.

The team showed that the electrochemical reduction of CO2 can take place with the help of nanozymes. Several reaction steps on the silver core and copper shell transform the starting material into ethanol and propanol.

Schuhmann says transferring the cascade reactions of the enzymes to catalytically active nanoparticles could be a decisive step in the design of new catalysts. There are other nanoparticles that can produce ethanol and propanol from CO2 without the cascade principle, but they require considerably more energy.

The team aims to further develop the concept of the cascade reaction in nanoparticles to produce molecules such as ethylene and butanol.

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