Catalysts are materials widely used in industry to speed reactions for making gasoline, pharmaceutical drugs, and for cleaning up car exhaust.

They typically contain expensive precious metals, which can make manufacturing and processing costs economically unattractive.

One class of catalysts, the single-atom catalysts, makes efficient use of the expensive metal by supporting it as isolated atoms on another cheap material.

Ayman M. Karim, associate professor of chemical engineering and Hongliang Xin, assistant professor of chemical engineering, both in the Virginia Tech College of Engineering, have identified the structure of iridium single-atom catalysts for carbon monoxide oxidation.

The identification of the structure and reaction mechanism will help in the design of better and more cost-efficient catalysts.

In the journal article "Identification of the Active Complex for CO Oxidation over Single- Atom Ir-on-MgAl2O4 Catalysts," published in Nature Catalysis, the discovery shows an efficiency rate that is up to 25 times higher than traditional catalysts made from larger iridium structures or nanoparticles.

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