An international research team, led in Spain by CSIC scientist Miguel A. Camblor, has discovered a stable aluminosilicate zeolite with a three dimensional system of interconnected extra-large pores, named ZEO-1.
Zeolites are crystalline porous materials with important industrial applications, including uses in catalytic processes. The pore apertures limit the access of molecules into and out of the inner confined space of zeolites, where reactions occur.
The research, published in Science, proved that ZEO-1 possesses these “extra-large” pores of around 10 Å (1 angstrom equals one ten billionth of a meter), but also smaller pores of around 7 Å, which is actually the size of traditional “large” pores.
Because of its porosity, strong acidity and high stability, ZEO-1 may find applications as a catalyst in fine chemistry for the production of pharmaceutical intermediates, in controlled substance release, for pollution abatement or as a support for the encapsulation of photo- or electroactive species (they react to light or an electric field).
“The crossings of its cages delimit super boxes, open spaces that can be considered nanoreactors to carry out chemical reactions in their confined space”, explains Miguel A. Camblor, researcher at the Instituto de Ciencia de Materiales de Madrid – CSIC.
To prove that this new zeolite may be useful in applications involving bigger molecules, researchers measured the adsorption to the inner surface of the zeolite of the dye Nile red – a big molecule. Moreover, they tested its performance in fluid catalytic cracking of heavy oil, a process the world still relies on to produce fuels. In both processes, the new zeolite performed better than the conventional large pore zeolite used nowadays.
This research is the result of an international collaboration between eight research centers in China, the USA, Sweden and Spain. The team was led by Fei-Jian Chen (Bengbu Medical College, China), Xiaobo Chen (China University of Petroleum), Jian Li (Stockholm University) and Miguel A. Camblor (Instituto de Ciencia de Materiales de Madrid, CSIC).
Structure determination with synchrotron light
The zeolite was discovered following a high-throughput screening methodology. The structure solution was challenging because the zeolite has a very complex structure, with a small crystal size (<200nm) but an exceedingly large cell volume.
“The combination of electron diffraction data with synchrotron powder X-ray diffraction data collected at the MSPD beamline of the ALBA Synchrotron and the Argonne National Laboratory (USA) made possible the accurate structure determination of ZEO-1″, says Camblor.
Read more on the ALBA website
Image: A perspective view of the extra-large pore of ZEO-1 along (100)