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Surface Science Studies of Strong Metal-Support Interactions in Heterogenous Catalysts

posted on 19.04.2022, 20:47 by Junxian GaoJunxian Gao

The strong metal support interaction (SMSI) is among the best-known classes of metal-oxide interfacial interactions in heterogeneous catalysis, which is defined by the coverage of surface oxide on metal nanoparticles, forming a metal-oxide interface. However, there is limited insight in the atomic scale understanding of the structure of the SMSI oxide. In this work, surface science techniques including scanning tunneling microscopy (STM), X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy (XPS), high-resolution electron energy loss spectroscopy (HREELS) and low energy electron diffraction (LEED) were employed to investigate interfacial interactions in multiple catalytic systems, including ZnO-Pd, ZnO-Pt, and MoOx-Pt. To utilize the capabilities of the surface science techniques and to mimic a catalytic metal nanoparticle in SMSI state, ultrathin oxide films were prepared on metal single crystals as inverse model catalysts.

The structural and chemical transformations of ultrathin zinc (hydroxy)oxide films on Pd(111) were studied under varying gas phase conditions (UHV, 5×10−7 mbar of O2 and D2/O2 mixture). Under oxidative conditions, zinc oxide forms partially hydroxylated bilayer islands on Pd(111). Sequential treatments of the submonolayer ZnOxHy films in D2/O2 mixture (1:4) at 550 K evoked structural transformations from bilayer to monolayer and to a PdZn near-surface alloy, in accompany with the reduction of Zn, demonstrating that zinc oxide as a non-reducible oxide, can spread on metal surface and show an SMSI-like behavior in the presence of hydrogen. A mixed canonical – grand canonical phase diagram revealed that the monolayer intermediate structure is a metastable structure formed during the kinetic transformation, and the near-surface alloys are stable under the D2/O2 conditions. Grand canonical phase diagram predicted that under real SMSI conditions zinc oxide films on Pd nanoparticles would be stabilized by hydroxylation with stoichiometries such as ZnOH and Zn2O3H3. Based on the experimental and theoretical observations, we propose that the mechanism of metal nanoparticle encapsulation involves both surface (hydroxy)oxide formation as well as alloy formation, depending on the environmental conditions.

Hydroxylation plays a more important role in the ZnO/Pt(111) system. Different from Pd(111), zinc oxide tends to form monolayer graphite-like ZnO films on Pt(111) under oxidative conditions at submonolayer coverages. This structure is extremely susceptible to hydroxylation at room temperature, leading to spontaneous formation of honeycomb-like Zn6O5H5 films in hydrogen. The interaction of the two distinct structures with Pt were investigated by XPS, STM, and HREELS with CO, C2H4, and NO as probe molecules. Zn exhibits a partially reduced oxidation state in Zn6O5H5 and donates negative charge to surface Pt in the confined rings, leading to a switch from linear CO adsorption to bridged CO adsorption in accompany with a 50 cm-1 shift of ν(CO) towards lower frequencies. C2H4 readily forms ethylidyne (*CCH3) species at room temperature once adsorbed on Pt(111), while the formation of ethylidyne is weakened on the Zn6O5H5/Pt(111) surface. In summary, this study demonstrated a unique metal-hydroxide interaction, which serves as a novel approach for the modification of metal catalysts.

The partial coverage of metal surfaces by oxides could be utilized to passivate specific sites of catalysts, improving the activity and stability. Herein, we studied the structure of surface Mo oxides on Pt(111) and Pt(544) using STM, XPS, and HREELS. At 0.08 ML coverage, Mo oxide tends to form 1~2 nm clusters and the majority of Mo is in +5 oxidation state. The Mo oxide clusters tend to aggregate near the monoatomic Pt steps, showing a higher local density compared to the wide terraces. Therefore, our results provide experimental evidence for the site-selective growth of Mo oxides at step sites, which could prevent the leaching of active component in catalysts under real reaction conditions.

Overall, through atomic-level characterization of inverse model catalysts, we provided insights into the nature of metal-oxide interactions in multiple systems. The surface oxide films influence the property of metal surfaces in various ways, including migration, alloy formation, electronic perturbation, geometric confinement, and site-selective blocking. These findings emphasize the necessity of understanding the real structure of catalytic surfaces under different reaction conditions and shed light on rational design of oxide supported metal nanoparticle catalysts.


The Strong-Metal Support Interaction: Insights from Molecular Theories and Experiments

Directorate for Engineering

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Degree Type

Doctor of Philosophy


Chemical Engineering

Campus location

West Lafayette

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee Chair

Jeffrey T. Miller

Additional Committee Member 2

Jeffrey P. Greeley

Additional Committee Member 3

Rajamani Gounder

Additional Committee Member 4

Dmitry Y. Zemlyanov