New Research Examines Use of Earth-Abundant Metals

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Platinum, rhodium and other precious metals are used as industrial catalysts, but they're a limited and expensive resource.

John Keith, associate professor of chemical engineering in Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering, contributed to a new paper in the journal Science that explores the use of earth-abundant metals instead. Earth-abundant metal catalysts are common in nature. Engineering new catalysts based on the natural world would dramatically reduce the cost and environmental footprint of industrial processes.

“Humans have developed portfolios of rare metals that work in industrial catalysis, but nature has its own portfolios of biological enzymes that use complex combinations of earth-abundant metals,” said Keith, who is an R.K. Mellon Faculty Fellow in Energy. “When we decipher nature’s blueprints for catalysis based on these metals, we can engineer new earth-abundant, metal-based catalysts to dramatically reduce the cost and environmental footprint of industrial processes needed for making materials, medicines, fuels and chemicals.”