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  1. Catalytic conversion of methane to methanol remains an economically tantalizing but fundamentally challenging goal. Current technologies based on zeolites deactivate too rapidly for practical application. We found that similar active sites hosted in different zeolite lattices can exhibit markedly different reactivity with methane, depending on the size of the zeolite pore apertures. Whereas zeolite with large pore apertures deactivates completely after a single turnover, 40% of active sites in zeolite with small pore apertures are regenerated, enabling a catalytic cycle. Detailed spectroscopic characterization of reaction intermediates and density functional theory calculations show that hindered diffusion through small pore apertures disfavors premature release of CH3radicals from the active site after C-H activation, thereby promoting radical recombination to form methanol rather than deactivated Fe-OCH3centers elsewhere in the lattice.

     
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    The recent research developments on the active sites in Fe-zeolites for redox catalysis are discussed. Building on the characterisation of the α-Fe/α-O active sites in the beta and chabazite zeolites, we demonstrate a bottom-up approach to successfully understand and develop Fe-zeolite catalysts. We use the room temperature benzene to phenol reaction as a relevant example. We then suggest how the spectroscopic identification of other monomeric and dimeric iron sites could be tackled. The challenges in the characterisation of active sites and intermediates in NO X selective catalytic reduction catalysts and further development of catalysts for mild partial methane oxidation are briefly discussed. 
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  5. A direct, catalytic conversion of benzene to phenol would have wide-reaching economic impacts. Fe zeolites exhibit a remarkable combination of high activity and selectivity in this conversion, leading to their past implementation at the pilot plant level. There were, however, issues related to catalyst deactivation for this process. Mechanistic insight could resolve these issues, and also provide a blueprint for achieving high performance in selective oxidation catalysis. Recently, we demonstrated that the active site of selective hydrocarbon oxidation in Fe zeolites, named α-O, is an unusually reactive Fe(IV)=O species. Here, we apply advanced spectroscopic techniques to determine that the reaction of this Fe(IV)=O intermediate with benzene in fact regenerates the reduced Fe(II) active site, enabling catalytic turnover. At the same time, a small fraction of Fe(III)-phenolate poisoned active sites form, defining a mechanism for catalyst deactivation. Density-functional theory calculations provide further insight into the experimentally defined mechanism. The extreme reactivity of α-O significantly tunes down (eliminates) the rate-limiting barrier for aromatic hydroxylation, leading to a diffusion-limited reaction coordinate. This favors hydroxylation of the rapidly diffusing benzene substrate over the slowly diffusing (but more reactive) oxygenated product, thereby enhancing selectivity. This defines a mechanism to simultaneously attain high activity (conversion) and selectivity, enabling the efficient oxidative upgrading of inert hydrocarbon substrates.

     
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