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Hydrogen & Fuel Cells

Catalysts in natural hydrogen processing described

Chemistry professor Thomas B. Rauchfuss, center, and graduate students Bryan Barton, left, and Matthew Whaley have co-written a paper that describes their work in creating
a synthetic catalyst that acts like nature's “hydrogen processor.”

Chemists at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have successfully described a catalyst that acts like nature’s most pervasive hydrogen processor.

Nature uses cheap and plentiful building blocks--iron, nickel and sulphur--to achieve the catalytic performance needed to form hydrogen. Man-made efforts to create hydrogen are not so easy when it involves rare and expensive metals such as platinum.

Two particular enzymes, iron-iron hydrogenase and nickel-iron hydrogenase, have been observed to function as natural hydrogen processors. The researchers generated mock-ups of natural catalytic sites using these enzymes.

The researchers’ model of the nickel-iron complex is the first to include a bridging hydride ligand, an essential component of the catalyst.

“By better understanding the mechanism in the nickel-iron hydrogenase active site, we are learning how to develop new kinds of synthetic catalysts that may be useful in other applications,” said graduate student Bryan E. Barton, lead author of the paper describing the work which the researchers have submitted for publication in the Journal of the American Chemical Society.

Katrice Jalbuena



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