Unique properties of ceria nanoparticles supported on metals: novel inverse ceria/copper catalysts for CO oxidation and the water-gas shift reaction

Sanjaya D Senanayake, Dario Stacchiola, Jose A Rodriguez
Accounts of Chemical Research 2013 August 20, 46 (8): 1702-11
Oxides play a central role in important industrial processes, including applications such as the production of renewable energy, remediation of environmental pollutants, and the synthesis of fine chemicals. They were originally used as catalyst supports and were thought to be chemically inert, but now they are used to build catalysts tailored toward improved selectivity and activity in chemical reactions. Many studies have compared the morphological, electronic, and chemical properties of oxide materials with those of unoxidized metals. Researchers know much less about the properties of oxides at the nanoscale, which display distinct behavior from their bulk counterparts. More is known about metal nanoparticles. Inverse-model catalysts, composed of oxide nanoparticles supported on metal or oxide substrates instead of the reverse (oxides supporting metal nanoparticles), are excellent tools for systematically testing the properties of novel catalytic oxide materials. Inverse models are prepared in situ and can be studied with a variety of surface science tools (e.g. scanning tunneling microscopy, X-ray photoemission spectroscopy, ultraviolet photoemission spectroscopy, low-energy electron microscopy) and theoretical tools (e.g. density functional theory). Meanwhile, their catalytic activity can be tested simultaneously in a reactor. This approach makes it possible to identify specific functions or structures that affect catalyst performance or reaction selectivity. Insights gained from these tests help to tailor powder systems, with the primary objective of rational design (experimental and theoretical) of catalysts for specific chemical reactions. This Account describes the properties of inverse catalysts composed of CeOx nanoparticles supported on Cu(111) or CuOx/Cu(111) as determined through the methods described above. Ceria is an important material for redox chemistry because of its interchangeable oxidation states (Ce⁴⁺ and Ce³⁺). Cu(111), meanwhile, is a standard catalyst for reactions such as CO oxidation and the water-gas shift (WGS). This metal serves as an ideal replacement for other noble metals that are neither abundant nor cost effective. To prepare the inverse system we deposited nanoparticles (2-20 nm) of cerium oxide onto the Cu(111) surface. During this process, the Cu(111) surface grows an oxide layer that is characteristic of Cu₂O (Cu¹⁺). This oxide can influence the growth of ceria nanoparticles. Evidence suggests triangular-shaped CeO₂(111) grows on Cu₂O(111) surfaces while rectangular CeO₂(100) grows on Cu₄O₃(111) surfaces. We used the CeOx/Cu₂O/Cu(111) inverse system to study two catalytic processes: the WGS (CO + H₂O → CO₂ + H₂) and CO oxidation (2CO + O₂ → 2CO₂). We discovered that the addition of small amounts of ceria nanoparticles can activate the Cu(111) surface and achieve remarkable enhancement of catalytic activity in the investigated reactions. In the case of the WGS, the CeOx nanoparticle facilitated this process by acting at the interface with Cu to dissociate water. In the CO oxidation case, an enhancement in the dissociation of O₂ by the nanoparticles was a key factor. The strong interaction between CeOx nanoparticles and Cu(111) when preoxidized and reduced in CO resulted in a massive surface reconstruction of the copper substrate with the introduction of microterraces that covered 25-35% of the surface. This constitutes a new mechanism for surface reconstruction not observed before. These microterraces helped to facilitate a further enhancement of activity towards the WGS by opening an additional channel for the dissociation of water. In summary, inverse catalysts of CeOx/Cu(111) and CeO₂/Cu₂O/Cu(111) demonstrate the versatility of a model system to obtain insightful knowledge of catalytic processes. These systems will continue to offer a unique opportunity to probe key catalytic components and elucidate the relationship between structure and reactivity of novel materials and reactions in the future.

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