Revealing the structure of a catalytic combustion active-site ensemble combining uniform nanocrystal catalysts and theory insights

An-Chih Yang, Tej Choksi, Verena Streibel, Hassan Aljama, Cody J Wrasman, Luke T Roling, Emmett D Goodman, Dionne Thomas, Simon R Bare, Roel S Sánchez-Carrera, Ansgar Schäfer, Yuejin Li, Frank Abild-Pedersen, Matteo Cargnello
Year of publication: 
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

Supported metal catalysts are extensively used in industrial and environmental applications. To improve their performance, it is crucial to identify the most active sites. This identification is, however, made challenging by the presence of a large number of potential surface structures that complicate such an assignment. Often, the active site is formed by an ensemble of atoms, thus introducing further complications in its identification. Being able to produce uniform structures and identify the ones that are responsible for the catalyst performance is a crucial goal. In this work, we utilize a combination of uniform Pd/Pt nanocrystal catalysts and theory to reveal the catalytic active-site ensemble in highly active propene combustion materials. Using colloidal chemistry to exquisitely control nanoparticle size, we find that intrinsic rates for propene combustion in the presence of water increase monotonically with particle size on Pt-rich catalysts, suggesting that the reaction is structure dependent. We also reveal that water has a near-zero or mildly positive reaction rate order over Pd/Pt catalysts. Theory insights allow us to determine that the interaction of water with extended terraces present in large particles leads to the formation of step sites on metallic surfaces. These specific step-edge sites are responsible for the efficient combustion of propene at low temperature. This work reveals an elusive geometric ensemble, thus clearly identifying the active site in alkene combustion catalysts. These insights demonstrate how the combination of uniform catalysts and theory can provide a much deeper understanding of active-site geometry for many applications.

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