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Science. 2001 Nov 16;294(5546):1508-10.

Atomic-resolution in situ transmission electron microscopy of a promoter of a heterogeneous catalyst.

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  • 1Haldor Topsøe A/S, Nymøllevej 55, DK-2800 Lyngby, Denmark.


Insight into the location, state, and function of a promoter in heterogeneous catalysis was obtained through atomic-resolution in situ transmission electron microscopy. In the most active ruthenium catalyst for ammonia synthesis known so far, the barium promoter is shown to be located in two different phases in the catalyst. The increased activity is suggested to be related to a two-dimensional barium-oxygen overlayer on the ruthenium crystals. The possibility for conducting such studies for other reactions could add substantially to our current understanding of heterogeneous catalysis. Heterogeneous catalysis plays an increasingly important role in environmental protection processes, in fuel upgrading, and in providing the majority of the chemical building blocks required by contemporary society. Most heterogeneous catalysts of industrial importance are multicomponent materials that are designed by trial-and-error experimentation. Application of even the most sophisticated physical-chemical characterization techniques is usually not sufficient to obtain a complete understanding of the structure of the active site, the reaction mechanism and kinetics, the structural dynamics, and the specific roles of all catalyst components.

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