Nano-catalysts that have utility for forming nanostructures and manufacturing nanomaterials are described. In some embodiments the nano-catalyst is formed from a powder-based substrate material and is some embodiments the nano-catalyst is formed from a solid-based substrate material. In some embodiments the substrate material may include metal, ceramic, or silicon or another metalloid. The nano-catalysts typically have metal nanoparticles disposed adjacent the surface of the substrate material. Methods of forming the nano-catalysts are disclosed. The methods typically include functionalizing the surface of the substrate material with a chelating agent, such as a chemical having dissociated carboxyl functional groups (--COO), that provides an enhanced affinity for metal ions. The functionalized substrate surface may then be exposed to a chemical solution that contains metal ions. The metal ions are then bound to the substrate material and may then be reduced, such as by a stream of gas that includes hydrogen, to form metal nanoparticles adjacent the surface of the substrate.
 The U.S. Government has rights to this invention pursuant to contract number DE-AC05-00OR22800 between the U.S. Department of Energy and Babcock & Wilcox Technical Services, LLC.
 This invention was made with government support under Contract No. DE-AC05-00OR22725 awarded by the U.S. Department of Energy. The government has certain rights in the invention.