A Theoretical Study of Methanol Oxidation on RuO2(110): Bridging the Pressure Gap

Allegra A. Latimer, Frank Abild-Pedersen, Jens K. Nørskov
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ACS Catalysis

Partial oxidation catalysis is often fraught with selectivity problems, largely because there is a tendency of oxidation products to be more reactive than the starting material. One industrial process that has successfully overcome this problem is partial oxidation of methanol to formaldehyde. This process has become a global success, with an annual production of 30 million tons. Although ruthenium catalysts have not shown activity as high as the current molybdena or silver-based industrial standards, the study of ruthenium systems has the potential to elucidate which catalyst properties facilitate the desired partial oxidation reaction as opposed to deep combustion due to a pressure-dependent selectivity “switch” that has been observed in ruthenium-based catalysts. In this work, we find that we are able to successfully rationalize this “pressure gap” using near-ab initio steady-state microkinetic modeling on RuO2(110). We obtain molecular desorption prefactors from experiment and determine all other energetics using density functional theory. We show that, under ambient pressure conditions, formaldehyde production is favored on RuO2(110), whereas under ultrahigh vacuum pressure conditions, full combustion to CO2 takes place. We glean from our model several insights regarding how coverage effects, oxygen activity, and rate-determining steps influence selectivity and activity. We believe the understanding gained in this work might advise and inspire the greater partial oxidation community and be applied to other catalytic processes which have not yet found industrial success.

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