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Will this discovery help us develop better catalysts?

Where exactly on the surface of a catalyst do the chemical reactions occur? Until now, it has always been a challenge to identify the exact locations of these ‘active sites’. In a new article in Nature, Leiden chemists helped their international colleagues reveal new insights into this issue. Their results open the door to more efficient catalysts for, for example, fuel cells.

A catalyst is only efficient at specific spots on the surface: the active sites. So it's important to be able to map these sites accurately. Traditional methods are often too simplistic and can lead to erroneous predictions of reactive activity. The new research led by Zhenhua Zeng and Jeffrey Greeley of Purdue University (United States) changes this. The chemists looked at reactions on the surface of platinum electrodes.

A completely new class

The scientists discovered a whole new class of active sites composed of diverse surface structures coupled by extended stress and strain fields in the catalyst surface. ‘This knowledge may lead to exciting new catalysts for fuel cells and other electrochemical devices,’ says Greeley. By cleverly adjusting the widths of the active sites or by adjusting the tension, we could create better catalysts in the future.

How calculations and experiments reinforce each other

The Leiden scientists were responsible for all the experimental work in the research. Former postdoc Arthur Shih carried out much of this work after establishing the link with Purdue. ‘In Leiden, we have specific methods and electrodes with which we could rigorously test the theoretical calculations of our colleagues in Purdue,’ says Marc Koper, professor of Catalysis and Surface Chemistry and co-author of the article. ‘The ultimate story is a beautiful example of how a dedicated collaboration between high-quality calculations and experiments can bring us unique insights!’

Further reading

For more information, read the complete press release on the Purdue University website: Purdue Researchers Create a Paradigm Shift in Catalyst Active Site Categorization, Opening Doors to New Catalyst Design

Or read the scientific article in Nature: Site-specific reactivity of stepped Pt surfaces driven by stress release.

International collaboration

This research is a collaboration between Purdue University (West Lafayette, United States), Hunan University (Changsha, China), Clarkson University (Postdam, United States), and Leiden University.

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