October 7, 2015

Patched atoms: Energy researchers discover new structure for bimetallic catalysts

Dion Vlachos has published a paper in Nature Communications showing that a
patched architecture may yield more effective catalysts than a traditional core-shell structure.
Photo by Kathy F. Atkinson

(October 7, 2015)  In the world of catalytic science and technology, the hunt is always on for catalysts that are inexpensive, highly active, and environmentally friendly.

Recent efforts have focused on combining two metals, often in a structure where a core of one metal is surrounded by an atom-thick layer of a second one.

The properties and performance of these so-called bimetallic core-shell catalysts can be superior to those of either of the constituent metals, but determining how to take advantage of this synergy can be challenging.

Dion Vlachos, who directs the Catalysis Center for Energy Innovation at the University of Delaware, uses computational techniques to predict how these nanoscale materials will behave, and he recently made a surprising discovery about the structure of bimetallic catalysts.

“We thought that the shell had to form a perfect concentric circle around the core,” he says. “But it turns out that the apparent imperfection of a patched surface actually offers better performance and ease of synthesis.”

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