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Scientists Learn to Destroy Greenhouse Gases in Environmentally Friendly Way

First Posted: Nov 29, 2013 08:00 AM EST

Greenhouse gases are contributing to global warming as they swirl in our atmosphere. Now, though, researchers have developed a new catalyst for the "activation" of carbon-fluorine bonds. This process could be used to help reduce the existing stocks of CFCs (chloro-fluoro-carbonated compounds).

Due to their stability, CFCs boomed in the 80s. They were used in products such as aerosols, fridge gas and other applications. Soon, though, their detrimental effect on the atmosphere was evident; when they reached the atmosphere, they decomposed and created free radicals that destroyed the ozone layer. Because of this, a lot of volatile CFC compounds remained in stock, unable to be eliminated due to the high energy costs that it entailed.

"Thus, we have to try to transform them into less harmful products," said Jose A. Mata, one of the researchers, in a news release. "Replacing fluorine by hydrogen is a desirable but extremely complicated process due to the inertia of the carbon-fluorine bond."

This new method, though, could help with this. The design of the new catalyst arises from a conceptually very simple idea: the combination of two different metals that act synergistically. One of the metals breaks the carbon-fluorine bond (palladium), the other introduces hydrogen (ruthenium).

Currently, the researchers are working on a new phase of research to help with the reverse reaction. If a catalyst caused a reaction in one direction, it also has to run in the opposite direction. In other words, the researchers are now changing carbon-fluorine by carbon-hydrogen; this means the opposite step could also be done.

The findings don't only have implications for greenhouse gases. If the researchers manage to conduct the opposite reaction, it could have a great impact in many different fields. For example, the pharmaceutical industry for drug development could be influenced by this particular reaction. This, in turn, could help pave the wave for future studies.

The findings are published in the journal Nature Communications.

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