ICC Researchers solve mystery of ‘structure-insensitive’ catalytic reactions

A team of researchers from the ICC group at Utrecht University has solved one of the fundamental mysteries in catalysis: the paradox of structure insensitivity. The work was a collaboration with Technion Institute of Technology, Eindhoven University, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Stony Brook University, and the Paul Scherrer Institute, and was published today in Nature Communications.

Mysteriously, for some catalysts, the shape and size of the nanoparticles seems to have no influence on their performance.The team found that the supposedly ‘structure-insensitive’ particles manage to rearrange themselves extremely quickly to an optimal structure, which is why their performance is always similar.

The researchers used a combination of advanced infrared spectroscopy, X-ray spectroscopy and electron microscopy to study supported nickel catalysts and compared their activity for a structure-insensitive reaction, turning ethylene into ethane, and a structure-sensitive one: turning carbon dioxide into methane. In the ethylene hydrogenation, they observed a fast surface restructuring of the metal nanoparticle. This restructuring happens faster and is more pronounced for larger metal nanoparticles than for smaller ones. The team researchers propose to replace the term ‘structure insensitivity’ with ‘apparent structure insensitivity.

Link to the UU press release.


Restructuring of Supported Metal Nanoparticles and its Implications for Structure Insensitive Catalysis, Charlotte Vogt*, Florian Meirer*, Matteo Monai*, Esther Groeneveld, Davide Ferri, Rutger van Santen, Maarten Nachtegaal, Raymond Unocic, Anatoly Frenkel and Bert Weckhuysen*, Nature Communications, 7 December 2021, DOI 10.1038/s41467-021-27474-3 (*ICC Authors)