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RESEARCH REVIEW

Scientists Develop Greener, Cheaper Method to Produce Brake Fluid Component

Argonne scientists have identified a new class of silver-based catalysts for the production of pro- pylene oxide that is both environmentally friendly and less expensive. Propylene oxide is commonly used in the production of propylene glycols for automotive brake fluids.

The study is the result of work by a collaborative team of researchers from five Argonne divisions, the Fritz-Haber-Institut in Berlin and the University of Illinois in Chicago. Argonne’s efforts were led by chemist Stefan Vajda, materials chemist Larry Curtiss and nanoscientist Jeff Greely.

Vajda found that nanoscale clusters of silver (three- atom silver clusters, as well as larger clusters of 3.5 nanometers in size) are highly active and selec- tive catalysts for the production of propylene oxide. (Catalysts help to initiate or accelerate chemical reactions.) Curtiss and Greeley then modeled the underlying mechanism behind the creation of propylene oxide by the ultrasmall particles of silver. They discovered that the open-shell electronic structure of the silver catalysts was the impetus behind the nanoclusters’ selectivity.

Argonne scientists (from left) Stefan Vajda, Larry Curtiss and Jeff Greeley have developed a new way of creating propylene that eliminates the many environmentally unfriendly by-products.

The experimental work was performed at Argonne’s Advanced Photon Source, complemented with studies conducted at BESSY/Fritz-Haber-Institut in Berlin.

“The production of propylene oxide now results in a significant amount of by-products that are harmful to the environment. We discovered that using nanoclusters of silver as a catalyst to produce this chemical results in fewer by-products at low temperatures,” said Vajda.

Funding for this project was provided by the U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Science, and from the U.S. Air Force Office of Scientific Research. A paper on this work was published in the April 9 issue of the journal Science.

View Science article: http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/full/328/5975/224

Larry Curtiss curtiss@anl.gov

Their discovery will, in the long run, contribute to cleaner automotive technology.

For more information, contact Stefan Vajda vajda@anl.gov

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Summer 2010

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