A new nanotech catalyst developed by McGill University chemists Chao-Jun Li, Audrey Moores, and their colleagues offers industry an opportunity to reduce the use of expensive and toxic heavy metals. Li describes the new catalyst as, “use a magnet and pull them out!”
Catalysts are substances used to facilitate and drive chemical reactions. Although chemists have long been aware of the ecological and economic impact of traditional chemical catalysts and do attempt to reuse their materials, it is generally difficult to separate the catalyzing chemicals from the finished product. The team’s discovery does away with this chemical process altogether.
The technology is known as nanomagnetics and involves nanoparticles of a simple iron magnet. Nanoparticles are sized between 1 and 100 nanometers. The catalyst itself is chemically benign and can be efficiently recycled. The method can be used to generate the reactions that are required, for example, in pharmaceutical research.