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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 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
Transition metal di- and tri-halides (TMH) have recently gathered research attention owing to their intrinsic magnetism all the way down to their two-dimensional limit. 2D magnets, despite being a crucial component for realizing van der Waals heterostructures and devices with various functionalities, were not experimentally proven until very recently in 2017. The findings opened up enormous possibilities for studying new quantum states of matter that can enable potential to design spintronic, magnetic memory, data storage, sensing, and topological devices. However, practical applications in modern technologies demand materials with various physical and chemical properties such as electronic, optical, structural, catalytic, magnetic etc., which cannot be found within single material systems. Considering that compositional modifications in 2D systems lead to significant changes in properties due to the high anisotropy inherent to their crystallographic structure, this work focuses on alloying of TMH compounds to explore the potentials for tuning their properties. In this thesis, the ternary cation alloys of Co(1-x)Ni(x)Cl(2) and Mo(1-x)Cr(x)Cl(3) were synthesized via chemical vapor transport at a various stoichiometry. Their compositional, structural, and magnetic properties were studied using Energy Dispersive Spectroscopy, Raman Spectroscopy, X-Ray Diffraction, and Vibrating Sample Magnetometry. It was found that completely miscible ternary alloys of Co(1-x)Ni(x)Cl(2) show an increasing Néel temperature with nickel concentration. The Mo(1-x)Cr(x)Cl(3) alloy shows potential magnetic phase changes induced by the incorporation of molybdenum species within the host CrCl3 lattice. Magnetic measurements give insight into potential antiferromagnetic to ferromagnetic transition with molybdenum incorporation, accompanied by a shift in the magnetic easy-axis from parallel to perpendicular. Phase separation was found in the Fe(1-x)Cr(x)Cl(3) ternary alloy indicating that crystallographic structure compatibility plays an essential role in determining the miscibility of two parent compounds. Alloying across two similar (TMH) compounds appears to yield predictable results in properties as in the case of Co(1-x)Ni(x)Cl(2), while more exotic transitions, as in the case of Mo(1-x)Cr(x)Cl(3), can emerge by alloying dissimilar compounds. When dissimilarity reaches a certain limit, as with Fe(1-x)Cr(x)Cl(3), phase separation becomes more favorable. Future studies focusing on magnetic and structural phase transitions will reveal more insight into the effect of alloying in these TMH systems.
Two-dimensional quantum materials have garnered increasing interest in a wide
variety of applications due to their promising optical and electronic properties. These
quantum materials are highly anticipated to make transformative quantum sensors and
biosensors. Biosensors are currently considered among one of the most promising
solutions to a wide variety of biomedical and environmental problems including highly
sensitive and selective detection of difficult pathogens, toxins, and biomolecules.
However, scientists face enormous challenges in achieving these goals with current
technologies. Quantum biosensors can have detection with extraordinary sensitivity and
selectivity through manipulation of their quantum states, offering extraordinary properties
that cannot be attained with traditional materials. These quantum materials are anticipated
to make significant impact in the detection, diagnosis, and treatment of many diseases.
Despite the exciting promise of these cutting-edge technologies, it is largely
unknown what the inherent toxicity and biocompatibility of two-dimensional (2D)
materials are. Studies are greatly needed to lay the foundation for understanding the
interactions between quantum materials and biosystems. This work introduces a new
method to continuously monitor the cell proliferation and toxicity behavior of 2D
materials. The cell viability and toxicity measurements coupled with Live/Dead
fluorescence imaging suggest the biocompatibility of crystalline MoS2 and MoSSe
monolayers and the significantly-reduced cellular growth of defected MoTe2 thin films
and exfoliated MoS2 nanosheets. Results show the exciting potential of incorporating
kinetic cell viability data of 2D materials with other assay tools to further fundamental
understanding of 2D material biocompatibility.