Nanodiamonds help decompose nerve agents

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A new diamond-titanium nanocomposite may help decompose dangerous chemical warfare agents such as Soman in much more effective manner. It was developed in cooperation of scientists from the Czech Academy of Sciences, Czech Technical University, Military Resarch Institute and Uppsala University.

A new diamond-titanium nanocomposite may help decompose dangerous chemical warfare agents such as Soman in much more effective manner. It was developed in cooperation of scientists from the Czech Academy of Sciences, namely by the teams of Štěpán Stehlík from the Institute of Physics and Jiří Henych from the Institute of Inorganic Chemistry, together with the teams of Bohuslav Rezek from the Faculty of Electrical Engineering at the Czech Technical University, Karel Mazanec from the Military Resarch Institute, and Lars Österlund from the Uppsala University.

A rapid and effective decomposition of dangerous substances is crucial for the decontamination of an affected territory and the protection of its inhabitants and environment. The use of similar nanocomposites might save lives during an area contamination such as the one we know from the British town of Salisbury which occurred after Novichok agent was used in an attack against a Russian intelligence officer Sergej Skripal and his daughter or after Sarin was used in Syria. Similarly, nanocomposites might be used to control insecticide contaminations

Using a simple method applicable in industry, the international team of scientists has prepared a nanocomposite capable of decomposing the infamous warfare agent Soman with higher efficiency than commonly available commercial sorbents. Soman, listed by the UN resolution as a weapon of mass destruction, is, along with Sarin and Tabun, a nerve agent of the organophosphate class.

“Nanostructured titanium dioxide (TiO2) can decompose warfare-type agents due to its unique surface properties and even more efficiently in the presence of light. We have improved its properties in combination with nanodiamonds. These helped increase the rate of decomposition of Soman by about three times,” explains Jiří Henych from the Institute of Inorganic Chemistry, the main author of the study.

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Left: an image taken with an electron microscope with the visualisation of nanodiamonds (orange) distributed over the surface of titanium dioxide (blue) in a prepared nanocomposite.
Right: The decomposition of warfare agent Soman using pure titanium dioxide, nanodiamonds and their common nanocomposite, which was most efficient.

“Nanodiamonds have proved to be a very suitable material as they are relatively inexpensive and enable a very simple modification of their surface chemistry, and, consequently, the properties of the resulting composite” confirms Štěpán Stehlík, who deals with the preparation and the study of diamond nanoparticles at the Institute of Physics of the CAS.

The idea of using nanodiamonds in the nanocomposite originated from Stehlík‘s close cooperation with the Institute of Inorganic Chemistry, together with which he develops more efficient methods of processing nanodiamods.

The achieved results represent a promising starting point for further research in metal oxide- and nanodiamond-based nanocomposites. “To significantly improve efficiency, one or two percent of the nanodiamond mass sufficed only,” adds Štěpán Stehlík.

The results were recently published in the recognized international journal Applied Catalysis B: Environmental (https://doi.org/10.1016/j.apcatb.2019.118097).

Other participating institutions of the research: J.E. Purkyně University in Ústí nad Labem.

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