Every catalyst particle contains a kind of “road network” over which molecules travel to the active sites in the catalyst. Metals can clog this road network, making the active sites unreachable. A research team from Utrecht University and Stanford has used a new imaging methodology to create a detailed road map of one catalyst particle. This new knowledge will eventually lead to the design of better catalysts for existing or new chemical production processes. The researchers published their results on 30 August 2016 in the open access journal Nature Communications.
The large number of pore channels in a catalyst particle makes it very difficult to study how the pores become blocked by metals. Florian Meirer (Utrecht University) explains: “When looking at a catalyst particle, which is about half as wide as a human hair, we measured the total length of the pore channels inside to be about 1.3 meters. By comparison, if the catalyst particle were as big as an average apple, the total length of the pore channels would be approximately two kilometers.”