Neutron study finds eco-friendly alternative for plastic production
A study into neutrons could make plastic production more environmentally friendly.
Researchers at the ISIS Neutron and Muon Source facility have found a substitute to vinyl chloride monomer (VCM) – a toxic and potentially explosive catalyst used to speed up the plastic-making process.
The environmental impact of plastic is well-documented, but the process of making the material also has an impact on the planet. Thirteen million tonnes of VCM is created every year.
ISIS Neutron and Muon Source is a world-leading centre for research at UK Research and Innovation’s Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) Rutherford Appleton Laboratory near Oxford. The ISIS suite of neutron and muon instruments give unique insights into the properties of materials on the atomic scale.
Researchers from the UK, China and the US used the Merlin instrument at ISIS to investigate the VCM substitute, called a gold-on-carbon catalyst.
How the new catalyst works remains a mystery, but scientists at ISIS are working to fill in the gaps of current knowledge, so a more environmentally-sound catalyst can be produced, without losing performance.
Researcher Dr Grazia Malta explains: “We were able to measure the inelastic neutron spectra of carbons with different acid treatments and correlate these observed surface species with the known activity of these catalysts. Our measurements of the spectrum of acetylene bound to the gold on carbon catalysts has also helped improve our understanding of the reaction mechanism. These findings will help us rationally design better catalysts for the future."
ISIS Neutron and Muon Source is a pulsed neutron and muon source. It is situated at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory of the Science and Technology Facilities Council, on the Harwell Science and Innovation Campus in Oxfordshire. It uses the techniques of muon spectroscopy and neutron scattering to probe the structure and dynamics of condensed matter on a microscopic scale ranging from the subatomic to the macromolecular.
Hundreds of experiments are performed every year the facility by researchers from around the world, in diverse science areas such as physics, chemistry, materials engineering, earth sciences, biology and archaeology.
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