Science & Technology

Stabilizing Single Atom Catalysts With High-Temperature Shock Waves

These are single platinum atoms unfold over a sea of carbon substrate. Credit score: Zhennan Huang and Reza Shahbazian-Yassar, Division of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering, College of Illinois at Chicago

A present scorching matter in catalysis analysis is the event of single atom catalysts — these whose atoms aren’t certain to one another. The rise in publicity of single atom catalysts maximizes atom-use effectivity for catalytic efficiency, aiding essential processes such because the manufacturing of gasoline and prescription drugs.

Synthesizing steady single atom catalysts proves difficult as a result of most of the most helpful catalytic reactions, such because the conversion of methane, can solely happen at excessive temperatures. To stay in a steady state, single atoms typically cluster collectively when excessive temperatures introduce a rise in instability to the system, inflicting a decline of their catalytic efficiency.

“We don’t wish to cease right here. We wish to research this novel methodology in frequent reactions after which generalize it to different supplies.” — Tianpin Wu, Argonne scientist

Scientists on the U.S. Division of Vitality’s (DOE) Argonne Nationwide Laboratory, together with companions from a number of universities, have demonstrated that exposing a catalyst and substrate to repeated high-temperature shock waves breaks the catalyst into single atoms and permits the system to stay steady for unprecedented durations of time.

On this pivotal discovery, the scientists used platinum for the catalyst and carbon for the substrate. Platinum serves as a catalyst for a lot of necessary reactions, equivalent to driving gasoline cells and changing pure gasoline to extra helpful varieties.

The research, which lately appeared in Nature Nanotechnology, took benefit of interdisciplinary collaboration between a number of nationwide labs and universities. Laptop fashions of the system throughout warmth pulsing got here from the College of Maryland. The predictions for the way the system would behave intently matched the precise outcomes obtained throughout response checks at Johns Hopkins College and X-ray absorption spectroscopy at Argonne’s Superior Photon Supply (APS), a DOE Workplace of Science Consumer Facility. In situ stability testing utilizing atomic decision microscopy was carried out at College of Illinois at Chicago and on the Environmental Molecular Sciences Laboratory, one other DOE Workplace of Science Consumer Facility at Pacific Northwest Nationwide Laboratory.

The APS beamline operated by the X-ray Science division Spectroscopy group makes a speciality of X-ray absorption spectroscopy, and it hosts all kinds of customers from fields equivalent to power storage, catalysis and environmental science. The approach they employed for the system on this research is ready to uniquely characterize single-atom catalysis. The scientists have been in a position to present that after 10 shock waves, there have been just about no platinum-platinum bonds, and that the platinum was binding with the carbon substrate, which is necessary in explaining the boosted efficiency of the system.

The scientists dispersed platinum atoms over a carbon floor, and at low temperatures, the platinum clustered collectively as a substitute of binding as particular person atoms with the carbon. After one excessive temperature shock wave — or pulse of warmth — the platinum islands started to interrupt aside and, after 10 pulses, the platinum was uniformly dispersed and planted within the carbon.

These experiments have been carried out utilizing shock waves at record-high temperatures of as much as 2000 Ok, a temperature greater than even the most well liked magma under Earth’s floor, establishing a steady catalytic setting ripe with potential for response. The system remained steady for greater than 50 hours after synthesis.

The shock wave methodology bypasses the frequent drawback of single atoms binding with themselves as a result of while you warmth atoms to excessive temperatures, the splash of power causes them to maneuver round and break their pre-existing bonds. This instability disrupts platinum-platinum bonds and makes the platinum unfold out over the carbon, offering energy-stable alternatives for it to bind with the carbon molecules. With every extra shock wave, the platinum atoms unfold out increasingly.

“The bonds between platinum and carbon are sturdy, so for those who separate the platinum from itself and it binds with carbon, it can keep there,” mentioned Tianpin Wu of the Spectroscopy group, an Argonne scientist on the research. “The carbon is like soil and the platinum is sort of a flower with sturdy roots — the system could be very steady.”

Utilizing thermal shock waves as a technique of synthesizing single-atom catalysts is a time-efficient and broadly relevant method of attaining catalytic environments which can be conventionally difficult. The group plans to make use of this methodology to synthesize different necessary catalysts equivalent to ruthenium and cobalt with substrates of carbon nitride and titanium dioxide to achieve a extra common concept of how the strategy works.

“We don’t wish to cease right here,” mentioned Wu. “We wish to research this novel methodology in frequent reactions after which generalize it to different supplies.”

“We in contrast the efficiency of our high-temperature single atom platinum catalyst with standard platinum nanoparticles in methane conversion, and we noticed a major enchancment in selectivity and thermal stability over lengthy durations of time,” mentioned Wu.

The group went additional to check the thermal stability of the system by treating the one atoms with shock waves as much as 3000 Ok. The end result was nonetheless a sea of single atoms, permitting for maximized atom-use effectivity.

“This work was like a puzzle, and all the collaborators’ contributions have been essential to get an in depth image of the system,” mentioned Wu. “Not any one of many methods might have informed the story alone, however collectively we confirmed that this methodology is as profitable as it’s.”


Argonne Nationwide Laboratory seeks options to urgent nationwide issues in science and expertise. The nation’s first nationwide laboratory, Argonne conducts modern primary and utilized scientific analysis in just about each scientific self-discipline. Argonne researchers work intently with researchers from a whole bunch of firms, universities, and federal, state and municipal businesses to assist them remedy their particular issues, advance America’s scientific management and put together the nation for a greater future. With workers from greater than 60 nations, Argonne is managed by UChicago Argonne, LLC for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science.

The U.S. Division of Vitality’s Workplace of Science is the one largest supporter of primary analysis within the bodily sciences in the US and is working to handle among the most urgent challenges of our time.
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