Non-stoichiometric oxides play a critical role in many catalytic, energy, and sensing technologies, providing the ability to reversibly exchange oxygen with the ambient environment through the creation and annihilation of surface oxygen vacancies. Oxygen exchange at the surfaces of these materials is strongly influenced by atomic structure, which varies significantly across nanoparticle surfaces. The studies presented herein elucidate the relationship between surface structure behaviors and oxygen exchange reactions on ceria (CeO2) catalyst materials. In situ aberration-corrected transmission electron microscopy (AC-TEM) techniques were developed and employed to correlate dynamic atomic-level structural heterogeneities to local oxygen vacancy activity.
A model Ni/CeO2 catalyst was used to probe the role of a ceria support during hydrocarbon reforming reactions, and it was revealed that carbon formation was inhibited on Ni metal nanoparticles due to the removal of lattice oxygen from the ceria support and subsequent oxidation of adsorbed decomposed hydrocarbon products. Atomic resolution observations of surface oxygen vacancy creation and annihilation were performed on CeO2 nanoparticle surfaces using a novel time-resolved in situ AC-TEM approach. Cation displacements were found to be related to oxygen vacancy creation and annihilation, and the most reactive surface oxygen sites were identified by monitoring the frequency of cation displacements. In addition, the dynamic evolution of CeO2 surface structures was characterized with high temporal resolution AC-TEM imaging, which resulted in atomic column positions and occupancies to be determined with a combination of spatial precision and temporal resolution that had not previously been achieved. As a result, local lattice expansions and contractions were observed on ceria surfaces, which were likely related to cyclic oxygen vacancy activity. Finally, local strain fields on CeO2 surfaces were quantified, and it was determined that local strain enhanced the ability of a surface site to create oxygen vacancies. Through the characterization of dynamic surface structures with advanced AC-TEM techniques, an improvement in the fundamental understanding of how ceria surfaces influence and control oxygen exchange reactions was obtained.