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Molecular Catalysts Made of Earth-Abundant Elements for Energy and Sustainability

Final Report Summary - CAT4ENSUS (Molecular Catalysts Made of Earth-Abundant Elements for Energy and Sustainability)

Catalysts are required for nearly every important chemical reaction. These essential substances save energy, time, and waste, and sometimes make possible reactions that were otherwise impossible. However, many catalysts are made of very precious and rare elements. The goal of this project is to develop catalysts composed of Earth-abundant elements as a sustainable solution for catalysis. These catalysts are developed for two applications. The first application is related to energy storage, where catalysts can help the storage of sunlight in the form of chemical fuels such as hydrogen. The second application is related to the efficient and green synthesis of functional molecules that might be used as medicines, materials, and pharmaceuticals. To accomplish these research goals, we apply interdisciplinary methods encompassing several core areas of chemistry and materials science.
Significant results have been obtained in this project: (1) Several new classes of nonprecious catalysts for hydrogen production from water have been discovered and developed. These catalysts are made of inexpensive and readily available materials, prepared in simple and scalable methods, and exhibit superior activity for hydrogen production. The properties of the catalysts have been thoroughly studied by advanced scientific tools. The catalysts have been integrated onto light-harvesting devices to make hydrogen using solar energy. These catalysts hold the promise to replace Platinum, a rare and precious substance, in hydrogen production. (2) A new nonprecious catalyst has been discovered that allows the conversion of carbon dioxide into useful chemical fuels. (3) Several novel methods, based on the use of inexpensive, non-toxic, and abundant iron compounds as catalysts, have been developed for the synthesis of internal alkynes, fluoroalkylated organic compounds, and alkenes. These methods allow the efficient and sustainable preparation of compounds important for the chemicals, materials, and pharmaceutical industries. In addition to these major catalyst discoveries, the project also led to the development of new tools in catalysis research and new fundamental understanding of catalysis.