Noble metal catalyst detection in rocks using machine-learning: The future to low-cost, green energy materials?


Carbon capture and catalytic conversion to methane is promising for carbon–neutral energy production. Precious metals catalysts are highly efficient; yet they have several significant drawbacks including high cost, scarcity, environmental impact from the mining and intense processing requirements. Previous experimental studies and the current analytical work show that refractory grade chromitites (chromium rich rocks with Al2O3 > 20% and Cr2O3 + Al2O3 > 60%) with certain noble metal concentrations (i.e., Ir: 17–45 ppb, Ru: 73–178 ppb) catalyse Sabatier reactions and produce abiotic methane; a process which has not been investigated at the industrial scale. Thus, a natural source (chromitites) hosting noble metals might be used instead of concentrating noble metals for catalysis. Stochastic machine-learning algorithms show that among the various phases, the noble metal alloys are natural methanation catalysts. Such alloys form when pre-existing platinum group minerals (PGM) are chemically destructed. Chemical destruction of existing PGM results to mass loss forming locally a nano-porous surface. The chromium-rich spinel phases, hosting the PGM inclusions, are subsequently a second-tier support. The current work is the first multi-disciplinary research showing that noble metal alloys within chromium-rich rocks are double-supported, Sabatier catalysts. Thus, such sources could be a promising material in the search of low-cost, sustainable materials for green energy production.

Scientific Reports