Isolated nanoparticles can create new generation of catalysts

Wednesday 27 Sep 17


Peter Christian Kjærgaard Vesborg
DTU Physics
+45 45 25 32 76

About ERC grants

In this round, the ERC is awarding grants totalling EUR 605 million to 406 researchers from all over the world with the UK, Germany, and France being the preferred countries. With the grants, Europe can attract and retain brilliant minds from around the world, as it is a condition that the researchers—irrespective of nationality—carry out their projects in an EU country.
With a European Research Council grant (ERC) of DKK 11 million (EUR 1.5 million), Associate Professor Peter Vesborg from DTU Physics will develop a new measuring method and isolate metallic nanoparticles to examine the difference in activity in the individual particles. The aim is to create a new generation of catalysts for the benefit of the environment and productivity.

Metallic nanoparticles constitute the core of many industrial catalysts, and are crucial for a wide range of technologies—ranging from cleaning of exhaust gases from internal combustion engines to synthesis of ammonia.

New method will increase experimental sensitivity
The basic assumption is that some particle configurations are significantly more active than others. Depending on the shape and configuration of the particle, its activity can vary greatly.

With the current methods, you cannot see what the individual particle is doing. Instead you carry out measurements on millions of nanoparticles. You can therefore not detect whether differences in the particles’ nanostructure result in differences in activity. This will hopefully change with Peter’s proposed measuring device, ATOMICAR, so that you can see whether some particle configurations are more active and effective than others.

“There is no method that is sufficiently sensitive to directly measure the catalytic conversion of a single nanoparticle. With ATOMICAR, we will increase the experimental sensitivity one million times, so that we can measure the catalytic activity of a single nanoparticle,” says Associate Professor Peter Vesborg, DTU Physics.

Measuring what a single nanoparticle does is a huge challenge, as differences in catalytic activity are difficult to trace.

“From an engineering point of view, the challenge is to carry out measurements on something with a sensitivity that is a million times higher than we are used to. The scientific challenge is to make the measurements on the individual nanoparticles to understand the relationship between activity and nanostructure,” says Peter Vesborg.

Insight into reactivity of nanoparticles may impact research
This research may open the door to a number of previously impossible catalytic experiments. This will provide new insight into the reactivity of nanoparticles, which will hopefully lead to a new generation of catalysts for the benefit of the environment and productivity.

“If we succeed, there are good opportunities that this can be used in industrial contexts. The application perspective is therefore to identify particularly favourable particle configurations. Then we can ultimately produce catalysts that use fewer of the rare and expensive raw materials, which are more effective, and which result in lower emissions of pollutants,” says Peter Vesborg.