Article Highlight | 3-May-2022

U chemists find size limits of the smallest zeolite crystals

University of Utah

For zeolites, a class of minerals used in industrial and chemical processes, smaller may be better. Synthesizing small zeolites only a few nanometers across could make them more effective and efficient. How small can they go? Around three nanometers is the limit, according to new research from University of Utah chemists.

Zeolites are minerals with a porous atomic structure and can sponge up other molecules and catalyze chemical reactions. Ever-smaller synthesized zeolites may perform even better than their large-scale counterparts.

University of Utah chemists simulated the properties of, and forces acting on, extremely small zeolites. For scale, we’re talking about crystals that are made up of no more than a few atoms.  They’re smaller than a human hair like a mouse is smaller than an elephant. One of the researchers, Valeria Molinero, previously applied similar techniques to find that a nanodroplet of 90 water molecules is the smallest droplet that can form ice.

Their results are published in Angewandte Chemie and supported by the US Department of Energy and the Center for High-Performance Computing at the University of Utah.

The team found that, for the typical hydrothermal synthesis methods, crystals below around 3 nanometers in size are unstable and collapse into compact molecules that don’t have zeolites’ superpowers. The results can help scientists understand the limits and dynamics of nanoscale chemistry in their quest for the smallest zeolites.

Find the full study here


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