Catalysts for a cleaner and safer world

The research in the field of novel tools and techniques for the decontamination from extremely toxic chemical warfare agents (CWA) had a noteworthy improvement in the Cold War decades when Western and Eastern Countries produced and were ready to use very large amounts of CWA. This gradual escalation situation lasted until 1993 when the Chemical Weapons Convention, banned not only the use, but also the production, detention and stockpiling of CWA. Later, the high level of concern due to the possible use of non-conventional weapons by clandestine terrorist groups and to the recent unstable international situation prompted the academic, civilian, military and private research organisations towards the improvement of any new technology for a rapid, efficient and safe on-field decontamination of persons and objects from highly toxic compounds, to save lives and to minimize damages. Decontamination, aimed at eliminating the hazard of highly toxic chemicals or chemical warfare agents is required on the field as well as in laboratories, pilot plants and chemical agent storage and destruction sites. Conventional and widely employed decontamination techniques rely on dissolution, adsorption, thermal decomposition or stoichiometric chemical degradation (oxidation, hydrolysis, combustion, etc.) of the toxic agents. All these methods need huge amounts of reactants and/or energy and this poses several problems in terms of safety, environmental and economical sustainability, costs and disposal of detoxified by-products. For these reasons, in last decade, the attention of both open and patent literature moved, from stoichiometric to catalytic chemical decontamination, based on reactive sorbent materials, which are able to convert highly toxic species into non-toxic (or much less toxic) secondary products under ambient conditions, with the use of low amounts of added environmentally benign reactants or via photocatalytic pathways. Furthermore, thanks to the recent advances in nanosciences and nanostructured materials, nanosized inorganic structures show promising performance because of their high activity and selectivity, even at very low catalyst to toxic agent ratios.

Our efforts consist in developing inorganic oxides for the catalytic oxidative decontamination and abatement of chemical warfare agents (CWA) analogues. A constant attention to the evaluation of the toxicological properties on living organisms and on the environment of the most promising solids is always paid.



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