Clusters are groups of atoms or molecules that display properties different from both the smaller atoms or molecules and the larger bulk materials. Many techniques have been developed to produce clusters, beams of clusters, and clusters in a bottle (see Chapter 2) for use in many different applications including thin film manufacture for advanced electronic or optical devices (see Chapters 3 and 5), production of nanoporous structures as thermal barrier coatings (Chapter 3), and fabrication of thin membranes of nanoporous materials for filtration and separation (see Chapters 3 and 7). Figure 4.1 depicts an apparatus developed at the University of Göteborg to measure cluster reactivity and sticking probability as a function of the number of metal atoms in the cluster.

The unique properties of nanoparticles make them of interest. For example, nanocrystalline materials composed of crystallites in the 1-10 nm size range possess very high surface to volume ratios because of the fine grain size. These materials are characterized by a very high number of low coordination number atoms at edge and corner sites which can provide a large number of catalytically active sites. Such materials exhibit chemical and physical properties characteristic of neither the isolated atoms nor of the bulk material. One of the key issues in applying such materials to industrial problems involves discovery of techniques to stabilize these small crystallites in the shape and size desired. This is an area of active fundamental research, and if successful on industrially interesting scales, is expected to lead to materials with novel properties, specific to the size or number of atoms in the crystallite.

Figure 4.1
Schematic drawing of the experimental setup used in Göteborg for studies of chemical reactivity and/or sticking probability of various molecules with the clusters. The production of clusters is via laser vaporization of metal substrates and detection via photo-ionization time-of-flight mass spectrometry (A. Rosen, University of Göteborg, Sweden).

A typical objective of nanoscale catalyst research is to produce a material with exceedingly high selectivity at high yield in the reaction product or product state, i.e., chemicals by design, with the option of altering the product or product state simply by changing the surface functionality, elemental composition, or number of atoms in the catalyst particle. For instance, new catalysts with increasing specificity are now being fabricated in which the stoichiometry may be altered due to size restrictions or in which only one or two spatial dimensions are of nanometer size.

Five recent examples where nanocrystalline metallic and ceramic materials have been successfully investigated for catalytic applications are discussed below (Trudeau and Ying 1996).

Novel Catalytic Properties of Nanostructured Gold Catalysts

In the study of transition metal catalytic reactions the group at Osaka National Research Institute has discovered that nanoscale gold particles display novel catalytic properties (Haruta 1997). Highly selective low temperature catalytic activity is observed to switch on for gold particles smaller than about 3-5 nanometers in diameter. Accompanying this turn on in catalytic activity is the discovery that these nanoscale gold particles (crystals) also have icosahedral structure and not the bulk fcc structure, again a nanoscale phenomena not available with bulk samples.

In fabricating these novel catalytic materials several issues appear to be crucial. For instance, the Osaka group has shown that (a) the preparation method plays a crucial role for generating materials with high catalytic activity and selectivity; that (b) the catalytic activity, selectivity and temperature of operation is critically dependent on the choice of catalyst support, and that (c) water (moisture) even in parts per million (ppm) levels dramatically alters the catalytic properties. Figure 4.2 shows the effect of moisture on the conversion profiles for CO oxidation for nanoscale gold catalysts supported on cobalt oxide.

Examples of novel catalytic behavior of nanoscale gold particles include the following:

Figure 4.2
Effect of moisture on conversion profiles for CO oxidation over Co3O4 and Au/Co3O4.

The fundamental work on gold catalysts has led to "odor eaters" for the bathroom, based on nanoscale gold catalysts supported on a-Fe2O3, a recent commercialization from Osaka National Research Institute in Japan.

Demonstration of the Importance of Controlling at Least One Dimension in the Nanoscale Size Range for the Industrially Important HDS Reaction

For catalysts based on the layered compound MoS2, maximum hydrodesulfurization (HDS) activity is obtained only on well-crystallized nanosized materials, while HDS selectivity is determined by the number of layers or "stack height" of the nanocrystalline MoS2. In the hydrodesulfurization reaction, illustrated in Figure 4.3, cyclohexylbenzene occurs only on the MoS2 "rim sites," or those around the edges of the stack, whereas the pathway to biphenyl requires both "rim" and "edge" sites. Thus, the reaction selectivity can be controlled by controlling the aspect ratio of the nanoparticles of MoS2. Such control of one- and two-dimensional nanostructures for selective chemical advantage is an exciting new area of research. Of course, a major industrial challenge will be to fabricate such nanocrystals in a commercializable form (Chianelli 1998).

Generation of Nanocrystalline, Non-Stoichiometric CeO2-X by Controlled Post-Oxidation of Cerium Nanoclusters Produced Via Inert Gas Condensation Synthesis

The cerium oxide (CeO2-x) materials have been found to possess a significant concentration of Ce3+ and oxygen vacancies, even after high temperature (500C) calcination. Such nanoclusters give rise to a substantial reduction in the temperature of selective SO2 reduction by CO and exhibit excellent poisoning resistance against H2O and CO2 in the feed stream compared to that for conventional high surface area cerium oxide.

Electrochemical Reduction of Metal Salts4

Electrochemical reduction of metal salts is yet another option available to control the size of nanoscale catalyst particles. This has been successfully used to prepare highly dispersed metal colloids and fix the metal clusters to the substrate. Control of the current density during the electrochemical

Figure 4.3.
Hydrodesulfurization reaction. Selective catalysis is controlled by either the edge or rim of MoS2 (Chianelli 1998).

synthesis process allows one to control the size of nanoscale transition metal particles. A combination of scanning tunneling microscopy (STM) and high-resolution transmission electron microscopy (TEM) has allowed surfactant molecules to be visualized on nanostructured palladium clusters.

Energy Storage Enhanced by Catalytic Dissociation of H2

Materials with higher hydrogen storage per unit volume and weight are considered by many to be an enabling technology for vehicular fuel cell applications. Scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratories have developed an approach that enables materials such as Mg to be used for hydrogen storage (Schwartz 1998). Magnesium is of interest because it can store about 7.7 wt % hydrogen, but its adsorption/desorption kinetics are slow, i.e., the rate of charge (hydrogen dissociation and hydride formation) is much slower than in metal hydrides. At Los Alamos, high surface area mixtures of nanoscale Mg and Mg2Ni particles are produced by mechanical means, ball milling. The addition of Mg2Ni catalyzes the H2 dissociation such that the rate of hydrogen adsorption increases to a rate comparable to that of LaNi5. Once a hydride is formed, the hydrogen "spillover" leads to magnesium hydride formation.

Figure 4.4 illustrates the hydrogen adsorption/desorption characteristics of the mixture of Mg with 23 atomic % Ni. As can be seen, a low pressure plateau at about 1500 torr is obtained for this particular sample. Experiments show that the pressure plateau can be tailored through such alloying. Studies with other nanoscale materials, including other catalysts such as FeTi and LaNi5, are presently ongoing to further improve both the capacity and the rate of hydrogen storage.

Published: September 1999; WTEC Hyper-Librarian