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A catalyst that mimics enzymes

By Paul Grad |

A research team from the University of New South Wales (Sydney, Australia; www.unsw.edu.au) and Ruhr-Universität Bochum (Bochum, Germany; www.ruhr-universität-bochum.de) has succeeded in transferring structural characteristics of natural enzymes to metallic nanoparticles, achieving high catalytic activity.

In the case of enzymes, the reacting substances must pass through a channel from the surrounding solution to the active enzyme center, where the structure provides favorable reaction conditions. To mimic enzyme structures, the team proposed nanoparticles with etched substrate channels. The team first produced nanoparticles (10-nm dia.) of nickel and platinum. The nickel is then removed by chemical etching to form channels. An oleylamine (a long-chain unsaturated fatty amine) is used as a capping layer that blocks the external surface of the nanoparticles participating in the catalytic reaction. Finally, the active centers on the particle surface are deactivated to ensure that only the active centers within the channels participate in the reactions.

Using the oxygen-reduction reaction as a model reaction (an important step in fuel-cell operation), the catalytic activity of these channeled particles were compared to those of conventional particles having active centers only on the surface. It was observed that the oxygen reaction occurs mainly within the etched channels, which provide a nanoconfined reaction volume different from the bulk electrolyte conditions. Active centers in the channels catalyze the reactions three times more efficiently than active centers on the particle surfaces, showing the potential of nanozymes.

The team plans to extend the concept to other reactions, such as electrocatalytic CO2 reduction. The researchers believe the concept will make energy conversion processes more efficient using electricity generated from renewable sources.

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