UK Catalysis Hub


Tracking reaction intermediates in sustainable catalytic processes with in situ/operando spectroscopy

Dr Gareth Whiting

Designing new catalytic processes (or even adapting established ones) in order to address global challenges, such as reducing the dependency on fossil-derived resources, and also CO2 emission abatement, is of paramount importance to prolonging life on earth. The use of renewable/sustainable resources and valorizing CO2 to synthesize chemicals and fuels, is a hot-topic in the field of heterogeneous catalysis research with many advancements made, but still, there are challenges that still lie ahead, e.g. optimizing process efficiency.

Tackling some of these challenges requires the ability to obtain a thorough mechanistic understanding of the catalyst system at hand. In order to do this, we need tools that allow us to ‘observe’ the catalyst whilst it is working, in order to develop structure-function relationships that will allow us to optimize the design of our catalyst systems.

High spatiotemporal resolution in situ/operando spectroscopy offers us an excellent means to not only observe the physical and chemical changes taking place on the catalyst itself, but also to track the formation of reaction species over time. Here, I will present a couple of our recent research highlights in this field: 1) Replacing fossil-fuel derived alkylating agents with renewable alternatives [1], and 2) Valorizing CO2 into methane [2]. By using a combination of complementary techniques, including operando X-ray absorption spectroscopy and operando optical spectroscopy, we have developed structure-function relationships on multi-scale catalysts (i.e. mm-sized catalyst bodies and supported nanoparticles), that can take us a step closer to realizing our goals.

Figure: Unraveling structure-sensitivity in supported Ni catalysts for CO2 hydrogenation using operando spectroscopy

[1] A. Dutta Chowdhury, K. Houben, G.T. Whiting, S-H. Chung, M. Baldus, B.M. Weckhuysen, Nature Catalysis 2018, 1, 23-31.

[2] C. Vogt, E. Groeneveld, G. Kamsma, M. Nachtegaal, L. Lu, C. Kiely, P.H. Berben, F. Meirer, B.M. Weckhuysen, Nature Catalysis 2018, 1, 127-134