Industrial Liaison Office

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Catalysis in real time

Schematic representation of the hydrogenisation process of crotonaldehyde on the surface of a copper crystal Schematic representation of the hydrogenisation process of crotonaldehyde on the surface of a copper crystal

Catalysts are defined as substances that cause chemical reactions to proceed more rapidly and simply while themselves remaining unchanged at the end of the reaction. Industry makes wide use of them to produce consumer products such as pharmaceuticals, plastics, fuels and fertilisers. Effective catalysts can help to produce energy savings, safer industrial processes and diminished environmental impact.
These considerations have prompted much interest in the study of the dynamics of such reactions in an effort to understand the processes involved, optimise them and develop more efficient catalysts. Such studies can often generate useful information only if quantitative measurements can be made in real time.


Elettra's contribution
At Elettra the SuperESCA high resolution photoemission beamline allows real time studies to be performed on processes occurring in intervals of time ranging from several seconds to approximately one hundred microseconds. It is thus an ideal tool for analysing catalytic systems.
In one study carried out on SuperESCA, researchers from the University of Cambridge discovered that copper, which does not normally have a catalytic effect on the chemical reaction that converts crotonaldehyde into crotyl alcohol, is transformed into a 100% effective catalyst when sulphur is present on its surface. This chemical reaction is particularly interesting, and of considerable importance, for many areas of the chemical industry.
With the emergence in recent years of new types of catalysts based on nanotechnology, analysis tools such as the SuperESCA beamline have been effective in supporting the effort to completely characterise catalytic processes, an indispensible requirement for the design of innovative catalysts.


Facility: SuperESCA Beamline
Real-time X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy of surface reactions; A. Baraldi, G. Comelli, S. Lizzit, M. Kiskinova, G. Paolucci; Surface Science Reports 49 (6-8), p. 169; 2003.