SLAC, Stanford Discovery Could Speed Important Chemical Reactions, Such As Making Hydrogen Fuel
Bombarding and stretching an important industrial catalyst opens up tiny holes on its surface where atoms can attach and react, greatly increasing its activity as a promoter of chemical reactions, according to a study by scientists at Stanford University and the Department of Energy’s SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory.
Charlie Tsai/ Stanford University
Illustration of a catalyst being bombarded with argon atoms to create holes where chemical reactions can take place. The catalyst is molybdenum disulfide, or MoS2. The bombardment removed about one-tenth of the sulfur atoms (yellow) on its surface. Researchers then draped the holey catalyst over microscopic bumps to change the spacing of the atoms in a way that made the catalyst even more active.
Hong Li/Stanford Nanocharacterizaton Laboratory
This electron microscope image of a molybdenum sulfide catalyst shows “holes” left by removing sulfur atoms. Creating these holes and stretching the catalyst to change the spacing of its atoms made the catalyst much more active in promoting chemical reactions. The bright dots are molybdenum atoms; the lighter ones are sulfur. The image measures 4 nanometers on a side.
The method could offer a much cheaper way to rev up the production of clean hydrogen fuel from water, the researchers said, and should also apply to other catalysts that promote useful chemical reactions. The study was published Nov. 9 in Nature Materials.
“This is just the first indication of a new effect, very much in the research stage,” said Xiaolin Zheng, an associate professor of mechanical engineering at Stanford who led the study. “But it opens up totally new possibilities yet to be explored.”
Finding a Cheap, Abundant Substitute
Catalysts are substances that promote chemical reactions without being consumed themselves, so they can be used over and over again. Natural catalysts are endlessly at work in plants, animals and our bodies. Industrial catalysts are used to make fuel, fertilizer and consumer products; they’re a multi-billion-dollar industry in their own right.
The catalyst studied here, molybdenum disulfide or MoS2, helps remove sulfur from petroleum in refineries. But scientists think it might also be a good alternative to platinum as a catalyst for a reaction that joins hydrogen atoms together to make hydrogen gas for fuel.
“We know platinum is very good at catalyzing this reaction,” said study co-author Jens Nørskov, director of the SUNCAT Center for Interface Science and Catalysis, a joint Stanford/SLAC institute. “But it’s a non-starter because of its rarity. There isn’t enough of it on Earth for large-scale hydrogen fuel production.”
MoS2 is much cheaper and made of abundant ingredients, and it comes in flexible sheets just one molecule thick, which are stacked together to make catalyst particles, Zheng said. All the catalytic action takes place on the edges of those sheets, where dangling chemical bonds can grab passing atoms and hold them together until they react.
Researchers have tried all sorts of schemes to increase the active area where this atomic matchmaking goes on. Most of them involve engineering the catalyst sheets to expose more edges, or adding chemicals to make the edges more active.
A Holey, Stretchy Solution
In the new approach, Stanford postdoctoral researcher Hong Li used an instrument in the Stanford Nanocharacterization Laboratory to bombard a sheet of MoS2 with argon atoms. This knocked about 1 out of 10 sulfur atoms out of the surface of the sheet, leaving holes surrounded by dangling bonds.
Then he stretched the holey sheet over microscopic bumps made of silicon dioxide coated with gold. He wet the sheet with a solvent, and when it dried the sheet was permanently deformed: The spacing of the atoms had changed in a way that made the holes much more chemically reactive.
“Before, the top surface of the sheet was not reactive. It was inert – zero, almost,” Zheng said. “Now the surface is more catalytically active than the edges. And we can tune this activity so the bonds that form on the catalyst are just right – strong enough to hold the reacting atoms in place, but weak enough so they’ll let go of the finished product once the atoms have joined together.”
SUNCAT theorists, including graduate student Charlie Tsai, played an important role in predicting which combinations of bombarding and stretching would produce the best results, using calculations made with SLAC supercomputers. The researchers said a combination of computation and experiment will be important in finding completely new kinds of active catalytic sites in the future.
Going forward, Zheng said, “We need to figure out how to do this in the layered catalytic particles that are used in industry, and whether we can apply the same idea to other catalytic materials.”
They’ll also need to find a better way to make the atom-sized holes, Tsai said. “Bombarding with argon is not practical,” he said. “The procedure is expensive, and it can’t really be scaled up for things like fuel production. So we’ve been working on a follow-up study where we try to replicate the results using a simpler process.”
Scientists from the Stanford Institute for Materials and Energy Research (SIMES) also played a key role in these experiments. The research was supported by the Samsung Advanced Institute of Technology (SAIT) and Samsung R&D Center America, Silicon Valley, and by SUNCAT and the Center on Nanostructuring for Efficient Energy Conversion at Stanford, both funded by the DOE Office of Science.
SLAC is a multi-program laboratory exploring frontier questions in photon science, astrophysics, particle physics and accelerator research. Located in Menlo Park, Calif., SLAC is operated by Stanford University for the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Science. For more information, please visit slac.stanford.edu.
SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory is supported by the Office of Science of the U.S. Department of Energy. The Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States, and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, please visit science.energy.gov
External Communications Manager
Andrew Gordon | newswise
Making fuel out of thick air
08.12.2017 | DOE/Argonne National Laboratory
‘Spying’ on the hidden geometry of complex networks through machine intelligence
08.12.2017 | Technische Universität Dresden
The miniaturization of the current technology of storage media is hindered by fundamental limits of quantum mechanics. A new approach consists in using so-called spin-crossover molecules as the smallest possible storage unit. Similar to normal hard drives, these special molecules can save information via their magnetic state. A research team from Kiel University has now managed to successfully place a new class of spin-crossover molecules onto a surface and to improve the molecule’s storage capacity. The storage density of conventional hard drives could therefore theoretically be increased by more than one hundred fold. The study has been published in the scientific journal Nano Letters.
Over the past few years, the building blocks of storage media have gotten ever smaller. But further miniaturization of the current technology is hindered by...
With innovative experiments, researchers at the Helmholtz-Zentrums Geesthacht and the Technical University Hamburg unravel why tiny metallic structures are extremely strong
Light-weight and simultaneously strong – porous metallic nanomaterials promise interesting applications as, for instance, for future aeroplanes with enhanced...
An interdisciplinary group of researchers interfaced individual bacteria with a computer to build a hybrid bio-digital circuit - Study published in Nature Communications
Scientists at the Institute of Science and Technology Austria (IST Austria) have managed to control the behavior of individual bacteria by connecting them to a...
Physicists in the Laboratory for Attosecond Physics (run jointly by LMU Munich and the Max Planck Institute for Quantum Optics) have developed an attosecond electron microscope that allows them to visualize the dispersion of light in time and space, and observe the motions of electrons in atoms.
The most basic of all physical interactions in nature is that between light and matter. This interaction takes place in attosecond times (i.e. billionths of a...
Transistors based on carbon nanostructures: what sounds like a futuristic dream could be reality in just a few years' time. An international research team working with Empa has now succeeded in producing nanotransistors from graphene ribbons that are only a few atoms wide, as reported in the current issue of the trade journal "Nature Communications."
Graphene ribbons that are only a few atoms wide, so-called graphene nanoribbons, have special electrical properties that make them promising candidates for the...
08.12.2017 | Event News
07.12.2017 | Event News
05.12.2017 | Event News
08.12.2017 | Life Sciences
08.12.2017 | Information Technology
08.12.2017 | Information Technology