Led by Manos Mavrikakis, the Paul A. Elfers professor of chemical and biological engineering at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and Flemming Besenbacher, a professor of physics and astronomy at the University of Aarhus, Denmark, the team published its findings in the May 18 issue of the journal Science.
Hydrogenation and hydrogenolysis reactions have huge applications in many key industrial sectors, including the petrochemical, pharmaceutical, food and agricultural industries. "In the petrochemical industry, for example, upgrading of oil to gasoline, and in making various biomass-derived products, you need to hydrogenate molecules—to add hydrogen—and all this happens through catalytic transformations," says Mavrikakis, who is among the top-100 chemists of the 2000-10 decade, according to Thomson Reuters.
A chemical reaction transforms a set of molecules (the reactants) into another set of molecules (the products), and a catalyst is a substance that accelerates that chemical reaction, while not itself being consumed in the process.
In industrial applications, the speed of catalytic transformations is important, says Mavrikakis. "The rate at which the hydrogen atoms diffuse on the surfaces of the catalyst determines, to a large extent, the rate of the chemical reaction—the rate at which we produce the products we want to produce," he says.
While many researchers have observed that water can accelerate chemical reactions in which hydrogen is a reactant or a product, until now, they lacked a fundamental grasp of how that effect was taking place, says Mavrikakis. "Nobody had appreciated the importance of water, even at the parts per million level," he says.
In their research, Mavrikakis and Besenbacher drew on their respective theoretical and experimental expertise to study metal oxides, a class of materials often used as catalysts or catalyst supports. They found that the presence of even the most minute amounts of water—on the order of those in an outer-space vacuum—can accelerate the diffusion of hydrogen atoms on iron oxide by 16 orders of magnitude at room temperature. In other words, water makes hydrogen diffuse 10,000 trillion times faster on metal oxides than it would have diffused in the absence of water. Without water, heat is needed to speed up that motion.
Besenbacher and his colleagues have one of the world's fastest scanning tunneling microscopes, which has atomic-scale resolution. With it, they could see how quickly hydrogen atoms diffused across iron oxide in the presence of water.
To explain the fundamental mechanisms of how that happened, Mavrikakis and his team used quantum mechanics, a branch of physics that explains the behavior of matter on the atomic scale; and massively parallel computing. Essentially, when water is present, hydrogen diffuses via a proton transfer, or proton "hopping," mechanism, in which hydrogen atoms from the oxide surface jump onto nearby water molecules and make hydronium ions, which then deliver their extra proton to the oxide surface and liberate a water molecule. That repeated process leads to rapid hydrogen atom diffusion on the oxide surface.
It's a process that doesn't happen willy-nilly, either. The researchers also showed that when they roll out the proverbial red carpet—a nanoscale "path" templated with hydrogen atoms—on iron oxide, the water will find that path, stay on it, and keep moving. The discovery could be relevant in nanoscale precision applications mediated by water, such as nanofluidics, nanotube sensors, and transfer across biological membranes, among others.
The U.S. Department of Energy Office of Basic Energy Sciences funded the UW-Madison research. Other UW-Madison authors on the Science paper include chemical and biological engineering research scientist Guowen Peng, PhD student Carrie Farberow, and PhD alumnus Lars Grabow (now an assistant professor at the University of Houston). Other authors include Lindsay Merte, Ralf Bechstein, Felix Rieboldt, Wilhelmine Kudernatsch, Stefan Wendt and Erik Laegsgaard of Aarhus University.
Manos Mavrikakis | Newswise Science News
Further reports about: > Energy Science > Heat Blanket > Science TV > Water Snake > biological engineering > biological membrane > chemical engineering > chemical reaction > fundamental mechanism > hydrogen atom > industrial application > industrial sector > iron oxide > metal oxides > water molecule
Multi-institutional collaboration uncovers how molecular machines assemble
02.12.2016 | Salk Institute
Fertilized egg cells trigger and monitor loss of sperm’s epigenetic memory
02.12.2016 | IMBA - Institut für Molekulare Biotechnologie der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften GmbH
A multi-institutional research collaboration has created a novel approach for fabricating three-dimensional micro-optics through the shape-defined formation of porous silicon (PSi), with broad impacts in integrated optoelectronics, imaging, and photovoltaics.
Working with colleagues at Stanford and The Dow Chemical Company, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign fabricated 3-D birefringent...
In experiments with magnetic atoms conducted at extremely low temperatures, scientists have demonstrated a unique phase of matter: The atoms form a new type of quantum liquid or quantum droplet state. These so called quantum droplets may preserve their form in absence of external confinement because of quantum effects. The joint team of experimental physicists from Innsbruck and theoretical physicists from Hannover report on their findings in the journal Physical Review X.
“Our Quantum droplets are in the gas phase but they still drop like a rock,” explains experimental physicist Francesca Ferlaino when talking about the...
The Max Planck Institute for Physics (MPP) is opening up a new research field. A workshop from November 21 - 22, 2016 will mark the start of activities for an innovative axion experiment. Axions are still only purely hypothetical particles. Their detection could solve two fundamental problems in particle physics: What dark matter consists of and why it has not yet been possible to directly observe a CP violation for the strong interaction.
The “MADMAX” project is the MPP’s commitment to axion research. Axions are so far only a theoretical prediction and are difficult to detect: on the one hand,...
Broadband rotational spectroscopy unravels structural reshaping of isolated molecules in the gas phase to accommodate water
In two recent publications in the Journal of Chemical Physics and in the Journal of Physical Chemistry Letters, researchers around Melanie Schnell from the Max...
The efficiency of power electronic systems is not solely dependent on electrical efficiency but also on weight, for example, in mobile systems. When the weight of relevant components and devices in airplanes, for instance, is reduced, fuel savings can be achieved and correspondingly greenhouse gas emissions decreased. New materials and components based on gallium nitride (GaN) can help to reduce weight and increase the efficiency. With these new materials, power electronic switches can be operated at higher switching frequency, resulting in higher power density and lower material costs.
Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems ISE together with partners have investigated how these materials can be used to make power...
16.11.2016 | Event News
01.11.2016 | Event News
14.10.2016 | Event News
02.12.2016 | Medical Engineering
02.12.2016 | Agricultural and Forestry Science
02.12.2016 | Physics and Astronomy