Research Article

Dynamic multinuclear sites formed by mobilized copper ions in NOx selective catalytic reduction

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Science  01 Sep 2017:
Vol. 357, Issue 6354, pp. 898-903
DOI: 10.1126/science.aan5630

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X-ray vision spies copper on the move

Copper ions in zeolites help remove noxious nitrogen oxides from diesel exhaust by catalyzing their reaction with ammonia and oxygen. Paolucci et al. found that these copper ions may move about during the reaction (see the Perspective by Janssens and Vennestrom). Zeolite catalysts generally fix metals in place while the reacting partners flow in and out of their cagelike structures. In this case, though, x-ray absorption spectroscopy suggested that the ammonia was mobilizing the copper ions to pair up as they activated oxygen during the catalytic cycle.

Science, this issue p. 898; see also p. 866


Copper ions exchanged into zeolites are active for the selective catalytic reduction (SCR) of nitrogen oxides (NOx) with ammonia (NH3), but the low-temperature rate dependence on copper (Cu) volumetric density is inconsistent with reaction at single sites. We combine steady-state and transient kinetic measurements, x-ray absorption spectroscopy, and first-principles calculations to demonstrate that under reaction conditions, mobilized Cu ions can travel through zeolite windows and form transient ion pairs that participate in an oxygen (O2)–mediated CuI→CuII redox step integral to SCR. Electrostatic tethering to framework aluminum centers limits the volume that each ion can explore and thus its capacity to form an ion pair. The dynamic, reversible formation of multinuclear sites from mobilized single atoms represents a distinct phenomenon that falls outside the conventional boundaries of a heterogeneous or homogeneous catalyst.

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