Research Highlight

Single-atom catalysts may cut costs for green technologies

Researchers discovered that isolated platinum atoms in copper surfaces efficiently catalyze the selective hydrogenation of 1,3 butadiene, a reaction important for many industrial applications.1 A new generation of catalysts with one Pt atom for approximately every 100 Cu atoms can aid chemical reactions needed for efficiency of fuel cells, catalytic converters and industrial chemicals.

 Tufts University, color graphics; Oak Ridge National Laboratory, U.S. Dept. of Energy, black-and-white photography Tufts University, color graphics; Oak Ridge National Laboratory, U.S. Dept. of Energy, black-and-white photography (hi-res image)

The work used state-of-the-art electron microscopy to directly image single-atom catalysts. It demonstrated that platinum atoms disperse in copper surfaces and boost catalytic activity at the nanoparticle surface. The reaction became less efficient when researchers used more platinum; clusters of platinum atoms are less selective than are individual atoms.  Because platinum is scarce and expensive, this “less is more” aspect offers a strategy for designing cheaper catalysts for green technologies.

The direct imaging of single-atom catalysts work derives from prior2 development and characterization of a catalyst (Pt on an Fe2O3 support) in which catalytic Pt was shown to be dispersed at the single-atom level using indirect methods, such as various spectroscopies, and one direct method, aberration-corrected electron microscopy.

1“Selective hydrogenation of butadiene on platinum copper alloys at the single atom limit,” Felicia R. Lucci, Jilei Liu, Matthew D. Marcinkowski, Ming YangLawrence F. Allard, Maria Flytzani-Stephanopoulos and E. Charles H. Sykes, Nature Communications, 6, 8550 (2015), DOI: 10.1038/ncomms9550.

2“Single-atom catalysis  of CO oxidation using Pt1/FeOx,” Botao Qiao, Aiqin Wang, Xiaofeng Yang, Lawrence F. Allard, Zheng Jiang, Yitao Cui, Jingyue Liu, Jun Li and Tao Zhang, Nature Chemistry,  3, 634–641 (August 2011), DOI: 10.1038/nchem.1095.

For more information: Lawrence F. Allard