Standford U Researchers and Scientists Succeed in Developing Artificial Catalyst that can Act Like Natural Enzymes

Scientists and researchers at Stanford University and SLAC (formerly Stanford Linear Accelerator Center) National Accelerator Laboratory, were able to develop a breakthrough synthetic catalyst that can speed up chemical reactions similar to the way natural enzymes act on living organisms.

The research and development team led by Matteo Cargnello, a chemical engineering assistant professor at Stanford, drew inspiration from nature. According to Professor Cargnello, their goal was to mimic how natural enzymes functioned in a laboratory environment, by developing an artificial catalyst that can convert substances into useful compounds.


The researchers experimented on designing a catalyst made from palladium nanocrystals. Palladium are precious metals found embedded in layers of porous polymers, also having special catalytic properties. This is similar to how common organic protein enzymes present in nature also have trace metals embedded in their core, like iron and zinc.

Using electron microscopic imagery created by Andrew Herzing of the National Institute of Standards and Technology, the Stanford researchers were able to see the trace palladium in their catalysts.

Next Goal: Methanol Production

The research and development team are optimistic that their discovery could lead the way to the development of industrial catalysts capable of generating methanol at a lower cost and using less energy.

Methanol has widespread applications, and is seeing an increasing demand as alternative to conventional gasoline in light of its characteristics as a low-emissions fuel.

However, most methanol fuel is produced by way of a two-step process that involves heating natural gas to temperatures of about 1,800 F or 1,000 C. Aside from being energy-intensive, the process also emits large amounts of carbon dioxide, which as we all know, is the main greenhouse gas that has been causing climate change.

According to Professor Cargnello, their long term objective is to develop a catalyst that will behave the way microbes use a natural enzyme known as methane monooxygenase as a means for metabolizing methane. He added that

“The ability to convert methane to methanol at low temperatures is considered a holy grail of catalysis”

The Synthetic Catalyst Proves Successful as Producing the Same Reactions as Natural Enzymes

The researchers under lead author Andrew Riscoe, a Stanford PhD student, said they initially focused on determining if the artificial catalyst they created will function like natural enzymes. For this purpose, the research team used the carbon reaction model to test if it will function in the same way natural enzymes speed up the conversion of toxic carbon monoxide into carbon dioxide (CO2).

Based on the success of the carbon dioxide experiment, Professor Cargnello and his colleagues proceeded with testing their synthetic catalyst to convert methane into methanol. Aside from being regarded as a cleaner and cheaper alternative to gasoline, methanol is also widely used in the industrial sector for the production of plastic, textiles and paints, just to name a few.

Princeton U’s Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment Finds a Way to Produce Hydrogen Efficiently

The idea of using hydrogen as an alternative to fossil fuel was first put forward by the University of Michigan in 2012. A proposed hydrogen economy has since then, been considered in order to bring down carbon emissions. The contention is that hydrogen combustion will release only water. Although the concept has not flourished, its potential as a clean source of energy has not been eliminated.

As of 2016, production of hydrogen fuel received attention, as car manufacturers Toyota, Hyundai and Honda came out with models that run on hydrogen fuel. However, it later became apparent that hydrogen production was costly and resulted to inefficiency and availability issues.

When extracted through a dedicated process of water electrolysis, only small quantities of hydrogen were produced. Moreover, there is insufficient clean energy that can be used to carry out the processes on a larger scale. Although hydrogen can be produced by way of natural gas steam-reforming method, the process still results to high carbon emissions. In addition, hydrogen is essential to the chemical industry, being a critical component of the basic chemicals demanded by highly industrialized nations.

Until recently, a group of engineering and chemical researchers at the Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment at Princeton University, figured out a way to efficiently produce hydrogen from wastewater.

Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment, to Make Hydrogen Economy Possible

Researchers of Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment published a report in the February 2019 issue of the Energy & Environmental Science Journal, about their breakthrough achievement.

Using a specially designed chamber outfitted with black silicon interface described as “Swiss Cheese-like, they have developed a technique that can split water as a means of isolating hydrogen. Inside the specially-designed chamber, the wastewater bacteria will contribute to the generation of electricity by consuming waste water. The electricity generated by the bacteria will in turn, help in the splitting process.

Professor Zhiyong Jason Ren of the Civil and Environmental Engineering at the Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment (ACEE) and lead investigator, together with Lu Lu, an associate research scholar also at ACEE, and first author of the report, developed the unique anaerobic chamber.

Wastewater from breweries was used for the test run, while in place was a lamp capable of simulating the strength of sunlight.
The result was successful, because as organic compounds started breaking down, hydrogen bubbled up.

The research report concluded that the group’s breakthrough discovery will largely appeal to refineries and chemical manufacturers. Chiefly because those industries are into deriving their own hydrogen from fossil fuels, and at the same time, incur high costs for cleaning wastewater.

UK’s Shutdown of Coal-Fueled Stations Keeps Carbon Reduction Initiatives on Track

The UK government is quite proud to achieve recognition for being one of the early adopters of clean energy. The country’s goal is to totally move away from operating coal powered stations, toward zero fossil fuel-use by year 2025.

Since 1:00 pm last May 01 onward, major coal-fueled stations in the country were shut down, while additional electrical power is provided by offshore wind turbines. The number of wind turbines installed is unprecedented in any other country, as installations of 9,702 wind turbines saw completion in April 2019. All of which have the capacity to produce an enormous 20.8 gigawatts; 12,904 megawatts allocated as onshore capacity, with remaining 7,895 megawatts allotted as offshore capacity.

Currently, wind turbines account for only 24 percent of UK’s electrical power. Natural gas, a type of fossil fuel considered as cleaner by far than coal, remains as the biggest electrical power generator at 46 percent. Jonathan Marshall, Head of Energy and Climate remarked,

“Outdated warnings that cutting carbon from our power system would lead to blackouts have been comprehensively proven to be incorrect.”

Still, with the country relying mainly on low-carbon fuel, the government must ensure, the supply of natural gas does not run dry.

UK Committee on Climate Change Reports Significant Improvement in Bid to Reduce Carbon Footprint

In the lastest 2018 Progress Report to Parliament, the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) gave information that UK’s carbon emissions as of 2017 went below by 43 percent from the levels recorded since 1990.

The CCD had previously mapped out carbon reduction budgets into 4 periods, starting from 2008 to 2027, whilst aiming to reduce total emissions by 80 percent from the 1990 levels. The 2018 Progress Report indicated that the UK is currently on track. The second (2013-17) and third (2018-22) carbon budgets saw out performances, although still not on track to meet the 4th (2023-27).

in order to achieve UK’s goal of reducing emissions by at least 80% by year 2050, at least 3% of overall domestic emissions must be reduced. The CCC recommends implementation of more challenging measures since the present progress is mostly attributed to carbon reduction from electricity generation. Indicating that improvements in carbon reduction from other sectors are yet to be achieved.