The method doubles the efficiency of widely used industrial catalysts

The science of catalysis – the carrying out of a chemical reaction – is probably not the most well-known branch of study, but it is woven into the fabric of modern society.

Scanning transmission electron microscopy images of metallic copper (yellow) and zinc oxide (pink/orange) catalysts. In the left image, Cu and Zn metal oxides are mainly present as separate particles after activation with H2. The image on the right shows Zn oxide decorating Cu metal particles after “induced activation” with H2/CH3OH/H2O. Image credit: Images courtesy of Xuan Tang and Professor Sheng Dai, East China University of Science and Technology.

The development and production of chemicals, pharmaceuticals, fuels and other goods rely on catalysis. Catalysis plays a crucial role in generating energy and reducing mankind’s effect on the environment.

It is included in the manufacture of approximately 25% of all industrial products in the United States. From a consumer perspective, if something is created, worn, experienced, played with, driven, or otherwise used by people, catalysis likely plays a fundamental role in its origin story.

The study done in the field of catalysis allows for new and improved products and highly effective approaches to making and manufacturing, well, almost anything you can imagine.

However, with these deep entanglements in the world around us, advances in industrial catalysis can be costly from a macro perspective – wholesale variations that require a “rip and replace” strategy are not suitable for business and provide chains that feed and supply the modern economy.

Scientists from Lehigh University, in collaboration with a partnership from East China University of Science and Technology (ECUST), suggest a new technique to significantly improve the catalytic efficiency of materials earlier in wide commercial use, a process they called “induced activation”. The study was published on January 20and, 2022, in the magazine Natural catalysis.

The research team assisted by the National Natural Science Foundation of China and the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science includes Israel E. Wachs, G. Whitney Snyder Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at Lehigh University.

The team also included a Ph.D. student Tiancheng Pu of Lehigh’s Operando Molecular Spectroscopy and Catalysis Research Laboratory, and Minghui Zhu, who graduated with a Ph.D. from Lehigh in 2016. who is currently a professor of chemical engineering at ECUST.

Other ECUST collaborating scientists include Didi Li, Fang Xu, Xuan Tang, Sheng Dai, Xianglin Liu, Pengfei Tian, ​​Fuzhen Xuan, and Zhi Xu.

Induced Activation: A Game Changer in Catalytic Surface Control

The surface structure of heterogeneous catalysts is closely related to their catalytic performance. Current structural modification efforts are primarily focused on improving catalyst synthesis.

Israel E. Wachs, Professor G. Whitney Snyder, Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, Lehigh University

Wachs added: “Induced activation, on the other hand, takes a different approach manipulate the surface of the catalyst by controlling the composition of the reducing agents at the catalyst activation stage where the catalyst is transformed to its optimum state.”

The researchers claim that the use of the “proven” industrial catalytic material copper or zinc oxide/aluminum oxide (Cu/ZnO/AlO3) allows businesses to take advantage of discovery without the need for costly retooling.

This development effectively doubles the catalytic efficiency of these materials, improving their productivity and extending catalyst life. And especially, induced activation can bring significant benefits to industry without shutting down a chemical plant or building a costly new one.

Israel E. Wachs, Professor G. Whitney Snyder, Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, Lehigh University

Journal reference:

Lid., et al. (2022) Induced activation of commercial Cu/ZnO/Al2O3 catalyst for the steam reforming of methanol. Natural catalysis.


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