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Anthropogenic processes have increased the concentration of toxic Se, As and N in water. Oxo-anions of these species are poisonous to aquatic and terrestrial life. Current remediation techniques have low selectivity towards their removal. Understanding the chemistry and physics which control oxo-anion adsorption on metal oxide and the catalytic nitrate reduction to inform improved remediation technologies can be done using Density functional theory (DFT) calculations. The adsorption of selenate, selenite, and arsenate was investigated on the alumina and hematite to inform sorbent design strategies. Adsorption energies were calculated as a function of surface structure, composition, binding motif, and pH within a hybrid implicit-explicit solvation strategy. Correlations between surface property descriptors including water network structure, cationic species identity, and facet and the adsorption energies of the ions show that the surface water network controls the adsorption energy more than any other, including the cationic species of the metal-oxide. Additionally, to achieve selectivity for selenate over sulphate, differences in their electronic structure must be exploited, for example by the reduction of selenate to selenite by Ti3+ cations.
Thermochemical or electrochemical reduction pathways to convert NO3- to N2 or NH3, which are benign or value-added products, respectively are examined over single-atom electrocatalysts (SAC) in Cu. The activity and selectivity for nitrate reduction are compared with the competitive hydrogen evolution reaction (HER). Cu suppresses HER but produces toxic NO2- because of a high activation barrier for cleaving the second N-O bond. SACs provide secondary sites for reaction and break traditional linear scaling relationships. Ru-SACs selectively produce NH3 because N-O bond scission is facile, and the resulting N remains isolated on SAC sites; reacting with H+ from solvating H2O to form ammonia. Conversely, Pd-SAC forms N2 because the reduced N* atoms migrate to the Cu surface, which has a low H availability, allowing N atoms to combine to N2. This relation between N* binding preference and reduction product is demonstrated across an array of SAC elements.
Hence, the solvation effects on the surface critically alter the activity of adsorption and catalysis and the removal of toxic pollutants can be improved by altering the surface water network.
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