Beyond Nanoparticles: The Role of Sub-nanosized Metal Species in Heterogeneous Catalysis

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Abstract: Titanate nanostructures are of great interest for catalytic applications because their high surface area and cation exchange capacity create the possibility to achieve high metal dispersion. Ion exchange allows titanate nanostructures to incorporate metal adatoms in their framework. Consequently, the curved layers contain a large amount of defect sites, typically oxygen vacancies and Ti 3+ centers, which can make them promising photocatalysts, because the defect sites can trap photoelectrons or holes extending the lifetime of the excited state. Due to the large amount of defects, titanate nanotubes (TNT) can stabilize sub-nanosized gold clusters, presumably in Au 25 form. This perspective summarizes the previous results obtained in the photocatalytic transformation of methane in which the size of gold nanoclusters plays an important role. Photocatalytic measurements revealed that methane is active towards photo-oxidation. Methane transforms mainly into hydrogen and, to a lesser extent, to ethane and ethanol. Based on recent additional results, we stress here that gold clusters (Au 25 ) may be directly involved in the photo-induced reactions, namely in the direct activation of the methane/Au 25 δ+ complex during irradiation. Another new finding is that gold nanoparticles supported on TNT exhibit high catalytic activity in CO 2 hydrogenation. Our results revealed fundamental differences in the reaction schemes as the products of the two routes are CO (thermal process) and CH 4 (photocatalytic route), indicating the importance of photogenerated electron–hole pairs in the reaction. The presence of gold nanoparticles on the surface has been found to have multiple roles. On the one hand, gold in nano and sub-nano sizes promotes the adsorption and scission of reactants, important for both types of reactions. On the other hand, the gold-support interface forms a rectifying Schottky contact that helps in the separation of photogenerated carriers, thus improving the utilization of electrons and holes in the reduction and oxidation steps, respectively. Furthermore, gold ions (Au + ), in the cationic sites of the titanate lattice promote the photocatalytic transformation of formate (which is one of the intermediates), thus advancing the reaction further towards the fully reduced product. The explored reaction schemes may pave the road towards novel catalytic materials that can solve challenges associated with the activation of CH 4 and CO 2 and thus contribute to green chemistry. Graphical Abstract: [Figure not available: see fulltext.].

Original languageEnglish
JournalCatalysis Letters
Publication statusPublished - Jan 1 2019



  • Catalysis
  • Elementary kinetics
  • Gold
  • Nanoclusters
  • Nanotechnology
  • Titanate nanostructures

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Catalysis
  • Chemistry(all)

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