After using a novel technique to synthesize the ceria nanoparticles, Rodriguez and coworkers Xianqin Wang and Jonathan Hanson used bright beams of x-rays at the National Synchrotron Light Source to study how their composition, structure, and reactivity changed in response to doping with zirconium in one case, and impregnation with gold in another.
"In a catalytic converter, ceria acts as a buffer, absorbing or releasing oxygen, depending on the conditions of the engine, to maintain the catalyst in its optimum operating condition for converting harmful emissions such as carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxide to carbon dioxide and nitrogen gas," Rodriguez said. Others have found that adding zirconium improves ceria's ability to store and release oxygen.
The synchrotron studies at Brookhaven explain why: Zirconium changes the ceria's structure to increase the number of oxygen "vacancies" -- or places for oxygen uptake and release. Furthermore, Rodriguez says, "The ceria nanoparticles we studied have much better performance, higher chemical reactivity, than the bulk form of ceria currently used in catalytic converters." Thus, this research holds promise for more-efficient catalytic converters -- and cleaner air.
In the second study, Wang, Hanson, and Rodriguez deposited gold on the surface of ceria nanoparticles and used x-rays at the synchrotron to determine the catalyst's "active phase" -- the conformation responsible for the catalytic activity -- in the conversion of water and carbon monoxide to hydrogen gas and carbon dioxide. This "water-gas shift" reaction is important for generating hydrogen, which can be used for chemical transformations and as a fuel in a hydrogen-based economy. Hydrogen is one of the leading energy sources being investigated by scientists sponsored by the Department of Energy as part of its mission to ensure the nation's future energy needs.
"In both cases, we are learning about the fundamental conditions necessary for optimal operation of the catalysts," Rodriguez said. "This kind of knowledge eventually will lead to a rational design of even more effective catalysts."
This research was funded by the Office of Basic Energy Sciences within the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Science.
One of the ten national laboratories overseen and funded primarily by the Office of Science of the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), Brookhaven National Laboratory conducts research in the physical, biomedical, and environmental sciences, as well as in energy technologies and national security. Brookhaven Lab also builds and operates major scientific facilities available to university, industry and government researchers. Brookhaven is operated and managed for DOE's Office of Science by Brookhaven Science Associates, a limited-liability company founded by Stony Brook University, the largest academic user of Laboratory facilities, and Battelle, a nonprofit, applied science and technology organization. Visit Brookhaven Lab's electronic newsroom for links, news archives, graphics, and more: http://www.
Note to local editors: Jose Rodriguez lives in Port Jefferson, New York.