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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

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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Linking structure and function to manage microbial communities carrying out chlorinated ethene reductive dechlorination

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Contamination by chlorinated ethenes is widespread in groundwater aquifers, sediment, and soils worldwide. The overarching objectives of my research were to understand how the bacterial genus Dehalococcoides function optimally to

Contamination by chlorinated ethenes is widespread in groundwater aquifers, sediment, and soils worldwide. The overarching objectives of my research were to understand how the bacterial genus Dehalococcoides function optimally to carry out reductive dechlorination of chlorinated ethenes in a mixed microbial community and then apply this knowledge to manage dechlorinating communities in the hydrogen-based membrane biofilm reactor (MBfR). The MBfR is used for the biological reduction of oxidized contaminants in water using hydrogen supplied as the electron donor by diffusion through gas-transfer fibers. First, I characterized a new anaerobic dechlorinating community developed in our laboratory, named DehaloR^2, in terms of chlorinated ethene turnover rates and assessed its microbial community composition. I then carried out an experiment to correlate performance and community structure for trichloroethene (TCE)-fed microbial consortia. Fill-and-draw reactors inoculated with DehaloR^2 demonstrated a direct correlation between microbial community function and structure as the TCE-pulsing rate was increased. An electron-balance analysis predicted the community structure based on measured concentrations of products and constant net yields for each microorganism. The predictions corresponded to trends in the community structure based on pyrosequencing and quantitative PCR up to the highest TCE pulsing rate, where deviations to the trend resulted from stress by the chlorinated ethenes. Next, I optimized a method for simultaneous detection of chlorinated ethenes and ethene at or below the Environmental Protection Agency maximum contaminant levels for groundwater using solid phase microextraction in a gas chromatograph with a flame ionization detector. This method is ideal for monitoring biological reductive dechlorination in groundwater, where ethene is the ultimate end product. The major advantage of this method is that it uses a small sample volume of 1 mL, making it ideally suited for bench-scale feasibility studies, such as the MBfR. Last, I developed a reliable start-up and operation strategy for TCE reduction in the MBfR. Successful operation relied on controlling the pH-increase effects of methanogenesis and homoacetogenesis, along with creating hydrogen limitation during start-up to allow dechlorinators to compete against other microorgansims. Methanogens were additionally minimized during continuous flow operation by a limitation in bicarbonate resulting from strong homoacetogenic activity.

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  • 2012