Shedding light on copper nanocatalyst

Engineers at the University of Michigan have demonstrated an environmentally friendly process for making propylene oxide based on copper nanoparticles, from which they can easily reverse surface oxidation to activate the catalyst using light. Suljo Linic and colleagues have shown how they can regenerate copper in metallic form with its unique electronic structure perfect for activating the reaction pathway from propylene to propylene oxide without boosting unwanted pathways. The secret is to form copper nanoparticles about 40 nanometers across and then to coat them with a dusting of silica. We are just scratching the surface, Linic says. I can envision many processes that wouldn't be possible with conventional strategies, where changing the oxidation state during the reaction or driving reactions with light could affect the outcome dramatically.