One of the main stumbling blocks in developing rational design strategies for heterogeneous catalysis is that the complexity of the catalysts impairs efforts to characterize their activesites. We show how to identify the crucial atomic structure motif for the industrial Cu/ZnO/Al2O3 methanol synthesis catalyst by using a combination of experimental evidence from bulk, surface-sensitive, and imaging methods collected on real high-performance catalytic systems in combination with density functional theory calculations. The active site consists of Cu steps decorated with Zn atoms, all stabilized by a series of well-defined bulk defects and surface species that need to be present jointly for the system to work.
The Active Site of Methanol Synthesis over Cu/ZnO/Al2O3 Industrial Catalysts
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