Catalyst: Scientists Track Individual Catalyst Nanoparticles During Heating

First Posted: Dec 21, 2015 11:53 AM EST

A team of researchers have managed to capture the atomic-level images of individual nanoparticles during heating, according to a study at McMaster University. The new step could lead to the improvement of fuel-cell technologies at a lower cost and it could reduce the need for imported oil, while reducing greenhouse gas emissions at the same time.

"Our work is pioneering in the application of advanced electron microscopy techniques to study the structural and compositional transformation of individual nanometer-sized particles during heating," Gianluigi Botton, coauthor of the study and Materials Science and Engineering Professor, said in a news release.

The heating of nanoparticles and atomic-level tracking enables researchers to development other types of inexpensive catalysts like platinum-iron nanoparticles, for example. Platinum nanoparticles are expensive, but they are commonly used.

The researchers used advanced electron microscopic techniques to track the atomic-rearrangement process of an individual Platinum-Iron nanoparticle as it was annealed inside the microscope. The researchers' new development on nanoparticles are as small as 1/50,000th of the diameter of a human hair and it could have varying applications in the automotive industry.

Fuel cell devices and technologies can power vehicles, where it converts chemical energy into electrical energy, which is efficient and eco-friendly compared to conventional combustion technologies. This process requires catalysts in order to function, which is costly for commercialization.

"Imagine that you placed millions of nanoparticles on a pan and started heating. During the course of heating, you select one of the particles. And, with the help of a powerful microscope, watch the atoms move. That is the equivalent to what we have done," said Sagar Prabhudev, coauthor of the study.

The researchers used a Titan 80-300 cubed microscope at McMaster's Canadian Center for Electron Microscopy to facilitate in their research.

The findings of this study were published in the journal ChemCatChem.  

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