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Heterogeneous Catalysis for Organic Reactions

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This honors thesis is focused on two separate catalysis projects conducted under the mentorship of Dr. Javier Pérez-Ramírez at ETH Zürich. The first project explored ethylene oxychlorination over supported europium oxychloride catalysts. The second project investigated alkyne semihydrogenation over nickel

This honors thesis is focused on two separate catalysis projects conducted under the mentorship of Dr. Javier Pérez-Ramírez at ETH Zürich. The first project explored ethylene oxychlorination over supported europium oxychloride catalysts. The second project investigated alkyne semihydrogenation over nickel phosphide catalysts. This work is the subject of a publication of which I am a co-author, as cited below.

Project 1 Abstract: Ethylene Oxychlorination
The current two-step process for the industrial process of vinyl chloride production involves CuCl2 catalyzed ethylene oxychlorination to ethylene dichloride followed by thermal cracking of the latter to vinyl chloride. To date, no industrial application of a one-step process is available. To close this gap, this work evaluates a wide range of self-prepared supported CeO2 and EuOCl catalysts for one-step production of vinyl chloride from ethylene in a fixed-bed reactor at 623 773 K and 1 bar using feed ratios of C2H4:HCl:O2:Ar:He = 3:3 6:1.5 6:3:82 89.5. Among all studied systems, CeO2/ZrO2 and CeO2/Zeolite MS show the highest activity but suffer from severe combustion of ethylene, forming COx, while 20 wt.% EuOCl/γ-Al2O3 leads to the best vinyl chloride selectivity of 87% at 15.6% C2H4 conversion with complete suppression of CO2 formation and only 4% selectivity to CO conversion for over 100 h on stream. Characterization by XRD and EDX mapping reveals that much of the Eu is present in non-active phases such as Al2Eu or EuAl4, indicating that alternative synthesis methods could be employed to better utilize the metal. A linear relationship between conversion and metal loading is found for this catalyst, indicating that always part of the used Eu is available as EuOCl, while the rest forms inactive europium aluminate species. Zeolite-supported EuOCl slightly outperforms EuOCl/γ Al2O3 in terms of total yield, but is prone to significant coking and is unstable. Even though a lot of Eu seems locked in inactive species on EuOCl/γ Al2O3, these results indicate possible savings of nearly 16,000 USD per kg of catalyst compared to a bulk EuOCl catalyst. These very promising findings constitute a crucial step for process intensification of polyvinyl chloride production and exploring the potential of supported EuOCl catalysts in industrially-relevant reactions.

Project 2 Abstract: Alkyne Semihydrogenation
Despite strongly suffering from poor noble metal utilization and a highly toxic selectivity modifier (Pb), the archetypal catalyst applied for the three-phase alkyne semihydrogenation, the Pb-doped Pd/CaCO3 (Lindlar catalyst), is still being utilized at industrial level. Inspired by the very recent strategies involving the modification of Pd with p-block elements (i.e., S), this work extrapolates the concept by preparing crystalline metal phosphides with controlled stoichiometry. To develop an affordable and environmentally-friendly alternative to traditional hydrogenation catalysts, nickel, a metal belonging to the same group as Pd and capable of splitting molecular hydrogen has been selected. Herein, a simple two-step synthesis procedure involving nontoxic precursors was used to synthesize bulk nickel phosphides with different stoichiometries (Ni2P, Ni5P4, and Ni12P5) by controlling the P:Ni ratios. To uncover structural and surface features, this catalyst family is characterized with an array of methods including X-ray diffraction (XRD), 31P magic-angle nuclear magnetic resonance (MAS-NMR) spectroscopy, and X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy (XPS). Bulk-sensitive techniques prove the successful preparation of pure phases while XPS analysis unravels the facile passivation occurring at the NixPy surface that persists even after reductive treatment. To assess the characteristic surface fingerprints of these materials, Ar sputtering was carried out at different penetration depths, reveling the presence of Ni+ and P-species. Continuous-flow three-phase hydrogenations of short-chain acetylenic compounds display that the oxidized layer covering the surface is reduced under reaction conditions, as evidenced by the induction period before reaching the steady state performance. To assess the impact of the phosphidation treatment on catalytic performance, the catalysts were benchmarked against a commercial Ni/SiO2-Al2O3 sample. While Ni/SiO2-Al2O3 presents very low selectivity to the alkene (the selectivity is about 10% at full conversion) attributed to the well-known tendency of naked nickel nanoparticles to form hydrides, the performance of nickel phosphides is highly selective and independent of P:Ni ratio. In line with previous findings on PdxS, kinetic tests indicate the occurrence of a dual-site mechanism where the alkyne and hydrogen do not compete for the same site.

This work is the subject of a publication of which I am a co-author, as cited below.

D. Albani; K. Karajovic; B. Tata; Q. Li; S. Mitchell; N. López; J. Pérez-Ramírez. Ensemble Design in Nickel Phosphide Catalysts for Alkyne Semi-Hydrogenation. ChemCatChem 2019. doi.org/10.1002/cctc.201801430

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2019-05

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Utilization of Computational Techniques in the Development of Functional Materials

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Functional materials can be characterized as materials that have tunable properties and are attractive solutions to the improvement and optimization of processes that require specific physiochemical characteristics. Through tailoring and altering these materials, their characteristics can be fine-tuned for specific

Functional materials can be characterized as materials that have tunable properties and are attractive solutions to the improvement and optimization of processes that require specific physiochemical characteristics. Through tailoring and altering these materials, their characteristics can be fine-tuned for specific applications. Computational modeling proves to be a crucial methodology in the design and optimization of such materials. This dissertation encompasses the utilization of molecular dynamics simulations and quantum calculations in two fields of functional materials: electrolytes and semiconductors. Molecular dynamics (MD) simulations were performed on ionic liquid-based electrolyte systems to identify molecular interactions, structural changes, and transport properties that are often reflected in experimental results. The simulations aid in the development process of the electrolyte systems in terms of concentrations of the constituents and can be invoked as a complementary or predictive tool to laboratory experiments. The theme of this study stretches further to include computational studies of the reactivity of atomic layer deposition (ALD) precursors. Selected aminosilane-based precursors were chosen to undergo density functional theory (DFT) calculations to determine surface reactivity and viability in an industrial setting. The calculations were expanded to include the testing of a semi-empirical tight binding program to predict growth per cycle and precursor reactivity with a high surface coverage model. Overall, the implementation of computational methodologies and techniques within these applications improves materials design and process efficiency while streamlining the development of new functional materials.

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2021

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Development of Magnetically Tunable High-Performance Dielectric Ceramics

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Losses in commercial microwave dielectrics arise from spin excitations in paramagnetic transition metal dopants, at least at reduced temperatures. The magnitude of the loss tangent can be altered by orders of magnitude through the application of an external magnetic field.

Losses in commercial microwave dielectrics arise from spin excitations in paramagnetic transition metal dopants, at least at reduced temperatures. The magnitude of the loss tangent can be altered by orders of magnitude through the application of an external magnetic field. The goal of this thesis is to produce “smart” dielectrics that can be switched “on” or “off” at small magnetic fields while investigating the influence of transition metal dopants on the dielectric, magnetic, and structural properties.

A proof of principle demonstration of a resonator that can switch from a high-Q “on state” to a low-Q “off state” at reduced temperatures is demonstrated in (Al1-xFex)2O3 and La(Al1-xFex)O3. The Fe3+ ions are in a high spin state (S=5/2) and undergo electron paramagnetic resonance absorption transitions that increase the microwave loss of the system. Transitions occur between mJ states with a corresponding change in the angular momentum, J, by ±ħ (i.e., ΔmJ=±1) at small magnetic fields. The paramagnetic ions also have an influence on the dielectric and magnetic properties, which I explore in these systems along with another low loss complex perovskite material, Ca[(Al1-xFex)1/2Nb1/2]O3. I describe what constitutes an optimal microwave loss switchable material induced from EPR transitions and the mechanisms associated with the key properties.

As a first step to modeling the properties of high-performance microwave host lattices and ultimately their performance at microwave frequencies, a first-principles approach is used to determine the structural phase stability of various complex perovskites with a range of tolerance factors at 0 K and finite temperatures. By understanding the correct structural phases of these complex perovskites, the temperature coefficient of resonant frequency can be better predicted.

A strong understanding of these parameters is expected to open the possibility to produce new types of high-performance switchable filters, time domain MIMO’s, multiplexers, and demultiplexers.

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2020

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Studying the Interactions and Dissolution of Interstitial Hydrogen Atoms in Niobium Using First Principles Methods

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Past experiments have revealed several unusual properties about interstitial hydrogen atoms in niobium. Absorption isotherms showed that niobium absorbs a large amount of hydrogen without changing its crystal structure. These isotherms also revealed that the interactions between hydrogen atoms in

Past experiments have revealed several unusual properties about interstitial hydrogen atoms in niobium. Absorption isotherms showed that niobium absorbs a large amount of hydrogen without changing its crystal structure. These isotherms also revealed that the interactions between hydrogen atoms in niobium are a combination of long-range attraction and short-range repulsion and exhibit many-body characteristics. Other experiments reported the facile thermal diffusion of hydrogen and deuterium in niobium. Contrary to the classical theory of diffusion, these experiments revealed a break in the activation energy of hydrogen diffusion at low temperatures, but no such break was reported for deuterium. Finally, experiments report a phenomenon called electromigration, where hydrogen atoms inside niobium respond to weak electric fields as if they had a positive effective charge. These experimental results date back to when tools like density functional theory (DFT) and modern high-performance computing abilities did not exist. Therefore, the current understanding of these properties is primarily based on inferences from experimental results. Understanding these properties at a deeper level, besides being scientifically important, can profoundly affect various applications involving hydrogen separation and transport. The high-level goal of this work is to use first-principles methods to explain the discussed properties of interstitial hydrogen in niobium. DFT calculations were used to study hydrogen atoms' site preference in niobium and its effect on the cell shape and volume of the host cell. The nature and origin of the interactions between hydrogen atoms were studied through interaction energy, structural, partial charge, and electronic densities of state analysis. A phenomenological model with fewer parameters than traditional models was developed and fit to the experimental absorption data. Thermodynamic quantities such as the enthalpy and entropy of hydrogen dissolution in niobium were derived from this model. The enthalpy of hydrogen dissolution in niobium was also calculated using DFT by sampling different geometric configurations and performing an ensemble-based averaging. Further work is required to explain the observed isotope effects for hydrogen diffusion in niobium and the electromigration phenomena. Applications of the niobium-hydrogen system require studying hydrogen's behavior on niobium's surface.

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2021