MAY 14, 2021 5:00 AM PDT

New way to convert dangerous volatile organic compounds

The emission of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from power plants and chemical manufacturing, as well as other industrial processes, poses a dangerous threat to human health and the environment. Yet although VOCs are toxic and carcinogenic pollutants, we still have not figured out a cost-effective and seamless way to convert them into benign materials. The typical method utilized for conversion is called catalytic oxidation, but it requires noble metal nanoparticles like gold and silver and is thus expensive. Now, new research published in Scientific Reports from Japan’s Nagoya Institute of Technology (NITech) reports a novel method of catalytic decomposition that uses the inorganic compound "hydroxyapatite" (HAp) instead of noble metals. 

The research team led byNITech’s Professor Takashi Shiraif explains that HAp is found naturally in, of all places, human bones. In fact, HAp is a form of the mineral calcium phosphate that is partially responsible for bone formation. 

"HAp is made of elements abundant in nature, is non-toxic and exhibits high biocompatibility. Our results, thus, opened up a new possibility for designing cheap, noble-metal-free catalysts for VOC control," comments Professor Shirai.

Shirai worked with NITech’s Yunzi Xin to modify the "active surface" of HAp so that it could be used to convert VOCs to benign compounds under ambient temperatures and pressures. The processes making this modification possible involved scanning electron microscopy, powder X-ray diffraction, Fourier transform infrared spectrometry, X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy, electron spin resonance analysis, surface acidity/basicity evaluation, and gas-flowing diffuse reflectance infrared Fourier transform spectroscopy. When all was said and done, they had created a method of catalytic oxidation capable of 100% conversion of VOCs. 

The scientists are hopeful about how their findings will inform the future of VOC conversion. "We expect that our catalyst will contribute significantly to VOC controlling and environmental cleaning all over the world by next decade, achieving the sustainable goals of clean air and water, affordable energy, and climate action," concludes Professor Shirai.

Sources:  Nagoya Institute of Technology, Science Daily

About the Author
  • Kathryn is a curious world-traveller interested in the intersection between nature, culture, history, and people. She has worked for environmental education non-profits and is a Spanish/English interpreter.
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