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For platinum catalysts, smaller may be better
Date:6/28/2010

in metal catalysts and are considered to be the active sites where catalytic reactions occur. Single crystals are used as models for these features.

Somorjai and Salmeron coated the platinum surfaces in this study with carbon monoxide gas, a reactant involved in many important industrial catalytic processes, including the Fischer-Tropsch process for making liquid hydrocarbons, the oxidation process in automobile catalytic converters, and the degradation of platinum electrodes in hydrogen fuel cells. As carbon monoxide coverage of the platinum crystal surfaces approached 100-percent, the terraces began to widen the result of increasing lateral repulsion between the molecules. When the surface pressure reached one torr, the terraces fractured into nanometer-sized clusters. The terraces were re-formed upon removal of the carbon monoxide gas.

"Our observations of the large-scale surface restructuring of stepped platinum highlights the strong connection between coverage of reactant molecules and the atomic structure of the catalyst surface," says Somorjai. "The ability to observe catalytic surfaces at the atomic and molecular levels under actual reaction conditions is the only way such a phenomenon could be detected."

Catalysts substances that speed up the rates of chemical reactions without themselves being chemically changed are used to initiate virtually every industrial manufacturing process that involves chemistry. Metal catalysts are the workhorses with platinum being one of the best. Industrial catalysts typically operate under pressures ranging from millitorr to atmospheres, and at temperatures ranging from room to hundreds of degrees Celsius. However, surface science experiments have traditionally been performed under high vacuum conditions and low temperatures.

"Such conditions will likely inhibit any surface restructuring process that requires the overcoming of even moderate activation barriers," Somorjai says.

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Contact: Lynn Yarris
lcyarris@lbl.gov
510-486-5375
DOE/Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
Source:Eurekalert  

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