Catalytic remediation of automobile exhaust has relied on precious metals (PMs) including platinum (Pt). Herein, we report that an intermetallic phase of Ni and niobium (Nb) (i.e., Ni3Nb) exhibits a significantly higher activity than that of Pt for the remediation of the most toxic gas in exhaust (i.e., nitrogen monoxide (NO)) in the presence of carbon monoxide (CO). When subjected to the exhaust-remediation atmosphere, Ni3Nb spontaneously evolves into a catalytically active nanophase-separated structure consisting of filamentous Ni networks (thickness < 10 nm) that are incorporated in a niobium oxide matrix (i.e., NbOx (x < 5/2)). The exposure of the filamentous Ni promotes NO dissociation, CO oxidation and N2 generation, and the NbOx matrix absorbs excessive nitrogen adatoms to retain the active Ni sites at the metal/oxide interface. Furthermore, the NbOx matrix immobilizes the filamentous Ni at elevated temperatures to produce long-term and stable catalytic performance over hundreds of hours.
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