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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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A Modelling Approach to Determine Gas and Temperature Profiles during Catalytic Reactions in Environmental Transmission Electron Microscopy

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A scheme has been developed for finding the gas and temperature profiles in an environmental transmission electron microscope (ETEM), using COMSOL Multiphysics and the finite element method (FEM). This model should permit better correlation between catalyst structure and activity, by

A scheme has been developed for finding the gas and temperature profiles in an environmental transmission electron microscope (ETEM), using COMSOL Multiphysics and the finite element method (FEM). This model should permit better correlation between catalyst structure and activity, by providing a more accurate understanding of gas composition than the assumption of homogeneity typically used. While more data is needed to complete the model, current progress has identified several details about the system and its ideal modeling approach.
It is found that at the low pressures and flowrates of catalysis in ETEM, natural and forced convection are negligible forms of heat transfer. Up to 250 °C, radiation is also negligible. Gas conduction, being enhanced at low pressures, dominates.
Similarly, mass transport is dominated by diffusion, which is most accurately described by the Maxwell-Stefan model. Bulk fluid flow is highly laminar, and in fact borders the line between continuum and molecular flow. The no-slip boundary condition does not apply here, and both viscous slip and thermal creep must be considered. In the porous catalyst pellet considered in this work, Knudsen diffusion dominates, with bulk flow being best described by the Darcy-Brinkman equation.
With these physics modelled, it appears as though the gas homogeneity assumption is not completely accurate, breaking down in the porous pellet where reactions occur. While these results are not yet quantitative, this trend is likely to remain in future model iterations. It is not yet clear how significant this deviation is, though methods are proposed to minimize it if necessary.
Some model-experiment mismatch has been found which must be further explored. Experimental data shows a pressure dependence on the furnace temperature at constant power, a trend as-yet unresolvable by the model. It is proposed that this relates to the breakdown of the assumption of fluid continuity at low pressures and small dimensions, though no compelling mathematical formulation has been found. This issue may have significant ramifications on ETEM and ETEM experiment design.

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2017-05

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Investigation of Amorphous Photocatalysts for Applications in Solar Water Splitting

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The purpose of this thesis was to investigate the properties of amorphous and crystalline NaTaO3 to determine what makes amorphous NaTaO3 a suitable photocatalyst for water splitting applications. Amorphous and nanocrystalline NaTaO3 were synthesized and characterized using X-Ray Diffraction (XRD),

The purpose of this thesis was to investigate the properties of amorphous and crystalline NaTaO3 to determine what makes amorphous NaTaO3 a suitable photocatalyst for water splitting applications. Amorphous and nanocrystalline NaTaO3 were synthesized and characterized using X-Ray Diffraction (XRD), Raman Spectroscopy, and Fourier Transform Infrared Spectroscopy (FT-IR). The photocatalytic activity of the materials was analyzed using methylene blue degradation as an indicator of photocatalytic activity. The amorphous material showed significant photocatalytic activity in methylene blue degradation experiments, removing 100% of a 0.1 mmol methylene blue solution in 20 minutes, compared to the monoclinic crystalline NaTaO3, which showed negligible photocatalytic activity. Additional electrochemical characterization studies were carried out with methyl viologen (MV2+) to determine the band structure of the materials. Performing these synthesis and characterization has provided insight into further investigation of amorphous NaTaO3 and what makes the material an effective and inexpensive photocatalyst.

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2014-05

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Enzymatic Reactive Extraction for the Production of Short-Chain Esters

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Esters are important solvents in multiple industries including adhesives, food, and pharmaceuticals. Although esters are biodegradable solvents, the conventional process of producing them is not eco-friendly because they are largely derived from petrochemicals. This has led scientists to consider implementing

Esters are important solvents in multiple industries including adhesives, food, and pharmaceuticals. Although esters are biodegradable solvents, the conventional process of producing them is not eco-friendly because they are largely derived from petrochemicals. This has led scientists to consider implementing biological routes in their production process by incorporating heterologous or improving inherent esterification pathways. However, due to inequality in the biosynthesis of esters and their precursors (organic acid and alcohol), a significant amount of precursors are left unconverted, thereby lowering overall esterification efficiency. Therefore, the primary goal of the current research is to improve the ester titers by incorporating one more step of in vitro esterification with the culture broth, thereby esterifying the unconverted precursors using high efficiency commercial enzymes in the presence of compatible organic solvent. In principle, the medium containing the precursors will be treated with the enzyme in presence of organic solvent, where the precursors will be distributed in both the phases, aqueous and organic, based on their polarity, and the enzymatic esterification will happen at the interface. Hence, as a first step, efforts were made to optimize the reaction conditions, beginning with choosing the most efficient organic solvent and corresponding enzyme candidate. Our results showed that, for production of ethyl acetate through this reactive extraction approach, Novozyme435 exhibited significant esterification with chloroform, with almost 85% conversion efficiency. Further optimizations with phase ratios, pH and incubation time showed that the pH 6.0 (3.1 g/L) was the most optimum where ethyl acetate titer was found to improve 10 times than that at pH 7.0 (0.164 g/L) with the phase ratio of 1:1. The kinetic studies further added that the incubation at 37oC gives the maximum ethyl acetate production within 8h. After initial optimization studies, cell broth from E. coli cells transformed to overproduce an esterase was also tested with the reactive extraction method. It was found that there was a ~7.5X decrease in ethyl acetate production in the cell media versus synthetic samples with the same concentration of reactants. Such a large decrease indicates that enzymatic promiscuity or inhibition currently prevent the cell samples from reaching the same conversion as synthetic studies. To characterize the maximum reaction rate (Vmax) and affinity constants of the substrates to Novozym 435, further kinetic studies were performed with one minute of reaction. The mathematical model employed assumes that enzyme kinetics rather than diffusion was the rate limiting step, that the concentrations of reactants at the interface are equivalent to the initial concentration of reactants, and that neither substrate is an inhibitor. Vmax was found to be 18.5 Mmol min-1g-1 (of catalyst used), and the affinity constants were 0.957 M and 0.00557 M for acetic acid and ethanol respectively. Vmax was similar to literature values with Novozym 435, and the affinity constants indicate a much higher binding efficiency of ethanol in comparison to acetic acid, indicating that a cocktail of esters are likely produced from Novozym 435 in cell broth. Overall, moving away from fossil-fuel dependence is necessary to promote sustainable industry standards, and microbial cell factories combined with reactive extraction, if optimized for industrial applications, can replace harmful environmental procedures. By optimizing the reactive extraction process for ester production, biorefineries could become more competitive and economically feasible for numerous applications.

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2022-05