- Number 358 |
- March 12, 2012
Designing Chemical Catalysts: There’s an App for that!
Jens S. Hummelshøj displaying
CatApp on an iPad.
Photo by Matt Beardsley.
Catalysts are the matchmakers of chemistry — and the unsung heroes behind many an essential product. They’re prized for their ability to promote chemical reactions without being altered or consumed themselves.
Making catalysts is a big business at the heart of a huge business. SRI Consulting reported in September 2010 that companies worldwide spend about $13 billion per year on catalysts used to produce some $500 billion to $600 billion worth of chemicals and refined petrochemicals, including gasoline and other liquid fuels.
Researchers both in and out of industry are always on the hunt for new catalysts that are more selective, require less energy and produce less waste. Now they have help: an app created by scientists from SUNCAT, the Center for Interface Science and Catalysis, at DOE's SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory and Stanford University.
CatApp displays reaction and activation energies for reactions occurring on catalytic metal surfaces. These factors are important in predicting how fast and completely a catalyzed reaction will proceed.
“CatApp is accessible to any phone, tablet or computer with Internet access,” said theoretical-physicist-turned-programmer Jens S. Hummelshøj, who spearheaded its development. “Moreover, the entire app and database is a compact 150-kilobyte download, so users can also run the app offline.”
The development team described CatApp in the Jan. 2, 2012, issue of the chemistry journal Angewantde Chemie.
“We expect this to be of interest both to academics and to industrial researchers and catalyst developers,” said SUNCAT’s Thomas Bligaard. “Imagine being able to make a simple, first test of new ideas before going into the laboratory to make new catalysts and characterize them.”
The search for novel catalysts is an important part of research at SUNCAT, where scientists are finding ways to use solar energy to make new fuels and chemicals from biomass and other non-fossil sources.
CatApp’s database contains calculated reaction energies for 1,054 catalytic reaction combinations involving reactant molecules having up to three carbon, nitrogen or oxygen atoms on 53 single-crystal surface types of 18 metallic elements. Users first choose a metal surface and reactant. Then with just one button-click, CatApp displays a simple diagram showing the corresponding activation energy and reaction-energy difference. The user can also easily explore how favorably the reaction would occur on other metal surfaces. The database includes references to source publications.
“In the near future, we will open the CatApp database so all researchers can submit their own data upon publication,” said Hummelshøj, who designed CatApp with future expansion in mind. “We will also add many more catalytic surface types and structures, including oxide, carbide, nitride, sulfide, alloy and nanoparticle surfaces; calculation uncertainties and higher-temperature reactions. I could add a million reactions.”
Further enhancements include adding experimental surface reaction data, creating a desktop version with more functionality and linking to the National Institute of Science and Technology’s Chemistry WebBook, which contains a wide variety of chemical properties data.
CatApp is the first published element of the Quantum Materials Informatics Project, a joint initiative between SUNCAT, Argonne National Laboratory, the University of Chicago, and the Technical University of Denmark to establish a common framework for storing and sharing electronic structure calculations.
In turn, QMIP is aligned with the country’s future Materials Genome Initiative, which aims to create computational tools for researchers to use in rapidly discovering and developing new materials. One early such effort — The Materials Project collaboration between MIT and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory — is concentrating primarily on bulk materials.
“It will be highly desirable to couple these and other databases together, leading to a universal web-based materials data warehouse,” Bligaard said.CatApp development is supported by the U.S. Department of Energy through the Office of Basic Energy Sciences’ Chemical Sciences, Geosciences, and Biosciences Division.
Submitted by DOE’s SLAC National Accelerator Facility