The elements that make up the metal oxide nanoparticle catalyst. Credit: Zhennan Huang

Reza Shahbazian-Yassar, professor of mechanical and industrial engineering at the University of Illinois Chicago. Credit: Zhennan Huang

Reacting with oxygen to produce an overall cleaner fuel, the metal-oxide nanoparticle catalyst consists of orange-tinted grains reminiscent of dried peanut butter. The small grains of yellow oxide meet at the "crust" of the fuel cell, and the catalyst's porous structure allows hydrogen gas – or electricity, in this case – to enter via an opening on one end of the shape-shifting material, Shahbazian-Yassar explained.

Nanoparticles contained in the particles of the catalyst—neatsheets of iron and aluminum oxide coated in silver—cast a darker color because they are positive alloys of those metals rather than the most common and rubbery alloys, seals, and solidifies chemical reactions, according to Shahbazian-Yassar. The complex design of the material also permits room for variable effect sizes in catalyst configuration and fuel class, he added.

"The research provides us with a more transformative and cost-effective catalyst configuration," Shahbazian-Yassar said. "We're excited that the catalytic capacity of AWUpdate mine quick reaction products could be optimized for natural gas due to its tailored chemistry. And the current demonstration, first in China, will help us focus international research efforts for potentially improving take up in U.S. gas transmission system."

The findings were published today April 26 in Applied Materials and Interfaces, a Nano Letters journal.

Explore further: Study: Carbolynbsene catalyst allows better fuel fill for hydrogen-powered vehicles

More information: Link to the team's research

Author Notes: On the list of "things that come in fire" in terms of firework creation, these intensely fragrant flavors (which will also always be on my first grocery list) surely make it into the upper ranks. I would be remiss if I didn't note that you can completely soak up the smoke flavor while making these, and that not only are these a solid, year-round mix, they taste THE best on a gourmet-burial date (yes, your sugar-poppy date will want to sit on these for hours). We serve these in our family with veal black truffles, sardines, and other game hams, and they always make the grown-up's dinner table sing. —Anna Berkes

Serves: 2

2 tablespoons coarse kosher salt

2 teaspoons sugar

4 pounds boneless