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Pinpointing Nanogold’s Catalytic Sites

Study finds 8-nm particles are better carbon dioxide electroreduction catalysts and explains why

by Mitch Jacoby
November 11, 2013 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 91, Issue 45

Credit: Andrew Peterson
An 8-nm gold particle provides an optimum ratio of corner (red) to edge (orange) sites.
Graphic shows how gold nanoparticles with 8-nm diameters catalyze CO2 reduction better than other sizes because they expose an ideal ratio of corner (orange) to edge (red) sites.
Credit: Andrew Peterson
An 8-nm gold particle provides an optimum ratio of corner (red) to edge (orange) sites.

Why trap and sequester CO2 for long-term storage if the greenhouse gas can be converted to valuable carbon compounds? Driven by that thinking, researchers have identified numerous conversion strategies, including electrochemically reducing CO2 to CO, which is a feedstock used to make synthetic fuels and other products. Several metals show moderate promise as electroreduction catalysts. But without a detailed understanding of the relationship between a catalyst’s structure and function, it’s difficult to tailor catalysts and improve their performance. For nanoparticulate gold, Brown University’s Andrew A. Peterson, Shouheng Sun, and coworkers have deduced a key piece of that relationship. The team reports that among various-sized gold particles, 8-nm gold particles are exceptionally good CO2 reduction catalysts (J. Am. Chem. Soc. 2013, DOI: 10.1021/ja409445p). And as a result of their quantum mechanical analysis, the researchers know why: Edge sites between adjacent crystal faces stabilize key carbon-based reduction intermediates, while corner sites drive competing reactions. Crystal growth energetics cause 8-nm particles to exhibit an optimum ratio of those sites, the team reports.


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