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“When an organic molecule undergoes a chemical reaction, it is often more efficient for the electrons to move in pairs,” says Shannon Stahl, a professor of chemistry. “But many catalysts, especially those composed of iron, copper and other abundant elements, are only effective in shuttling one electron at a time.”
In energetic terms, Stahl says, “we get two for the price of one, and we can save half a volt relative to one of the most widely used catalysts. In a fuel cell, that is significant saving of energy.”
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The research was sponsored by the Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center. The new copper/TEMPO catalyst was discovered in the course of work focused on oxidation of alcohols in lignin, a hard-to-use byproduct of paper manufacturing. Earlier work by Stahl had shown that oxidation methods could promote lignin conversion to valuable chemicals.
—David Tenenbaum, University Communications
Photo at top: The apparatus used to demonstrate new catalysts for alcohol oxidation that reduce the amount of energy needed in the process. (Credit: David Tenenbaum)