A metal catalyst may one day bring cheaper fuel. Flemming Besenbacher of the University of Aarhus, and Jens Norskov at the Technical University, Copenhagen, Denmark, took a catalyst for steam reforming, where hydrocarbons from natural gas are converted to molecular hydrogen and carbon monoxide that can be used to produce ammonia, methanol and fuels. Nickel is used as active ingredient in the catalyst. But if pure nickel is used, carbon atoms tend to stick to it and eventually stop its working. The key was to change the catalyst's reactivity slightly. Norskov's team predicted how different amounts of gold would affect the nickel's reactivity. The researchers worked out an ideal nickel-to-gold ratio for steam reforming. They demonstrated its high efficiency at catalysing the steam reforming of butane and that no carbon form on it ( New Scientist , Vol 157, No 2127).
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