Defects increasesefficiency catalysts

Defects increases the efficiency of catalysts

5:01 AM, 27th April 2012
Defects increases the efficiency of catalysts
Dr Robert Schlogl, Professor, Fritz Haber Institute of the Max Planck Society.

MUNICH, GERMANY: For many decades industry has been producing methanol on a large scale from a mixture of carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide, as well as hydrogen. An international team, including chemists from the Fritz Haber Institute of the Max Planck Society in Berlin, has now clarified why the catalyst used in this process, copper and zinc oxide particles and a small portion of aluminium oxide, works so well. They also discovered why this reaction accelerator has to be produced in the tried and tested way.

The researchers established that defects in an as yet unknown combination with mixing of copper and zinc oxide at the catalyst’s surface are the reason why the catalysts are so active. These findings could make a contribution to further improving the catalyst, and also help researchers develop catalysts that convert pure carbon dioxide efficiently. These could be used to recycle the greenhouse gas that is produced when fossil fuels burn.

“A changeover to green energies is not possible without energy storage systems,” said Dr Robert Schlogl, Professor, Fritz Haber Institute of the Max Planck Society. This is because the electricity generated by wind turbines and solar installations varies strongly and does not follow demand. These findings could contribute to the development of catalysts that efficiently convert carbon dioxide produced in the combustion of coal, gas or oil with hydrogen into methanol or other chemical energy storage systems.

“Only when we understand why this catalyst works so well and why it must be produced in the tried and tested way will we be able to optimise it and further develop it for the conversion of pure carbon dioxide,” said Dr Malte Behrens, Deprtment of Inorganic Chemistry, Fritz Haber Institute of the Max Planck Society. Using images from a high-resolution transmission electron microscope (HRTEM) and neutron diffraction, which provides information on the crystal structure; the scientists discovered defects in the arrangement of the copper atoms in the nanoparticles.

They subsequently employed quantum chemical computations to prove that some of the intermediate products preferred to adsorb at these defects. This means, the defects increase the catalyst’s activity, as its exact task is to promote the formation of these intermediate products. In addition, the scientists discovered why the zinc oxide plays an important role in the mixture.

They investigated the nanosponge with the synchrotron radiation from the Bessy II electron storage ring for the investigation of catalysts. They used the X-ray portion of this extremely intense radiation to follow what was happening chemically on the surface of the reaction accelerator when it came into contact with the reaction partners. In this analysis, and also on HRTEM images, they ascertained that zinc oxide also creeps over parts of the copper particles, and that some atoms in the copper surface are even replaced by zinc. This also makes the catalyst very active, calculations showed that some intermediate products of the reaction, in this case those containing oxygen are more likely to bond to the zinc than to the copper.

© Max-Planck University News

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