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More complex than expected: Catalysis under the microscope

At the Institute of Materials Chemistry of TU Wien, scientists use microscopy techniques to observe chemical reactions on catalysts more precisely than before yielding a wealth of detail. This made clear why some effects cannot be predicted.

Cover image ACS Catalysis

Catalysts composed from tiny metal particles play an important role in many areas of technology – from fuel cells to production of synthetic fuels for energy storage. The exact behavior of catalystsdepends , however, on many fine details and their interplay is often difficult to understand. Even when preparing exactly the same catalyst twice, it often occurs that these two will differ in minute aspects and therefore behave very different chemically.

At TU Wien, scientists try to identify reasons for such effects by imaging the catalytic reactions taking place on various locations on these catalysts, applying several different microscopy techniques. Such an approach yields a reliable, microscopically correct understanding of the catalytic processes.

In doing so, it appeared that even relatively “simple” catalytic systems were more complex than expected. For example, it is not only the size of the employed metal particles or the chemical nature of the support material that define the catalytic properties. Even within a single metal particle, different scenarios can prevail on the micrometer scale. In combination with numeric simulations, the behavior of different catalysts could then be explained and correctly predicted.

Illustration PEEM catalytic activity

The study was published in the prestigious journal ACS Catalysis and highlighted by a front cover.

Philipp Winkler et al.: Imaging interface and particle size effects by in situ correlative microscopy of a catalytic reaction, ACS Catalysis13 (2023) 7650−7660,, opens an external URL in a new window


 Research supported by the Austrian Science Fund (FWF; P32772-N and SFB TACO F81-P08).