Understanding how nanoparticles interact is key to improve metal nanocatalysts

Nanocatalysts are key for the future of sustainable chemistry, yet, they typically suffer from rapid deactivation caused by a process called sintering. In a recent study led by the ALBA Synchrotron and Ghent University, researchers have developed an integrated approach where they complement the use of several characterization techniques to study platinum nanoparticle sintering at the micro-, meso- and macroscale. The demonstrated approach shows that mesoscale heterogeneities in the nanoparticle population drive sintering. This work will help broaden the fundamental understanding of nanoparticle sintering and thus design better strategies for catalyst fabrication.

Metal nanoparticle catalysts are the workhorses in a broad range of industrially important chemical processes such as producing clean fuels, chemicals and pharmaceuticals or cleaning exhaust from automobiles. These nanocatalysts are key for the future of sustainable chemistry, yet they typically suffer from rapid deactivation caused by a process called sintering. Due to sintering, the average nanoparticle size increases since this is energetically more efficient for the nanoparticles. However, this decreases their catalytic power.

To date, sintering phenomena are analyzed either at the macroscale, to examine averaged nanoparticle properties, or at the microscale, studying individual nanoparticles. However there is a knowledge gap on the nanocatalysts behavior at the mesoscale, the intermediate length scale between the macro and the micro worlds. At the mesoscale, large ensembles with thousands of nanoparticles can be studied as a “population” in which nanoparticles “communicate” – interact – with each other. In this context, nanoparticle sintering can be considered as a dynamic population of interacting nanoparticles, each of them trading and exchanging atoms to gain stability within the nanoparticle hierarchy.

In a recent study led by the ALBA Synchrotron and Ghent University, researchers have developed an integrated approach where they complement the use of several characterization techniques to study platinum nanoparticle sintering at the micro-, meso- and macroscale. More specifically, they used different analytical techniques and X-ray scattering characterization at the NCD-SWEET beamline in ALBA to show that mesoscale heterogeneities in the nanoparticle population drive sintering. Thus, deleting these heterogeneities would help to avoid sintering.

Read more on the ALBA website

Image: Researchers inside the experimental hutch of the NCD-SWEET beamline at the ALBA Synchrotron. From left to right: Zhiwei Zhang (Ghent University), Matthias Minjauw (Ghent University), Matthias Filez (Ghent University – KU Leuven) and Juan Santo Domingo Peñaranda (Ghent University).

Platinum forms nano-bubbles

Technologically important noble metal oxidises more readily than expected.

Platinum, a noble metal, is oxidised more quickly than expected under conditions that are technologically relevant. This has emerged from a study jointly conducted by the DESY NanoLab and the Vienna University of Technology. Devices that contain platinum, such as the catalytic converters used to reduce exhaust emissions in cars, can suffer a loss in efficacy as a result of this reaction. The team around principal author Thomas Keller, from DESY and the University of Hamburg, is presenting its findings in the journal Solid State Ionics. The result is also a topic at the users’ meeting of DESY’s X-ray light sources with more than 1000 participants currently taking place in Hamburg.
“Platinum is an extremely important material in technological terms,” says Keller. “The conditions under which platinum undergoes oxidation have not yet been fully established. Examining those conditions is important for a large number of applications.”
The scientists studied a thin layer of platinum which had been applied to an yttria-stabilised zirconia crystal (YSZ crystal), the same combination that is used in the lambda sensor of automotive exhaust emission systems. The YSZ crystal is a so-called ion conductor, meaning that it conducts electrically charged atoms (ions), in this case oxygen ions. The vapour-deposited layer of platinum serves as an electrode. The lambda sensor measures the oxygen content of the exhaust fumes in the car and converts this into an electrical signal which in turn controls the combustion process electronically to minimize toxic exhausts.

>Read more on the DESY (PETRA III) website

Image: Electron microscope view into the interior of a platinum bubble. The cross-section was exposed with a focused ion beam. Below the hollow Pt bubble the angular YSZ crystal can be seen.
Credit: DESY, Satishkumar Kulkarni