The ancient alchemists sought to transform base metals, like lead, into precious gold. Now a new process developed at the Univ. of Illinois at Chicago suggests that base metals may be worth more than their weight in gold — as catalysts in the manufacture of countless products made from petroleum-based raw materials.
The process is described online in the Journal of the American Chemical Society. Pharmaceuticals, electronic components, plastics and fuels are just some of the goods based on petroleum, a hydrocarbon molecule. But to use petroleum, the chemical bonds between its hydrogen and carbon atoms must first be broken so that other elements can be added. Breaking those bonds — other than by burning — is a challenge to chemists.
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