Tuning Selectivity in Propylene Epoxidation by Plasmon Mediated Photo-Switching of Cu Oxidation State

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Science  29 Mar 2013:
Vol. 339, Issue 6127, pp. 1590-1593
DOI: 10.1126/science.1231631

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Copper in the Spotlight

Elemental copper should, in principle, be a productive catalyst for the commercial preparation of propylene oxide; however, in practice, surface oxidation under industrial conditions quickly diminishes selectivity below a useful threshold. Marimuthu et al. (p. 1590) now show that irradiating the copper with visible light during the reaction excites surface plasmon resonances that lead to reduction of the oxide coating and restore selectivity.


Oxidation of functioning copper has restricted its applicability as a catalyst for commercially important epoxidation of propylene to form propylene oxide. Here, we report that steady-state selectivity in propylene epoxidation on copper (Cu) nanoparticles increases sharply when the catalyst is illuminated with visible light. The selectivity increase is accompanied by light-induced reduction of the surface Cu atoms, which is brought about by photoexcitation of the localized surface plasmon resonance (LSPR) of Cu. We discuss multiple mechanisms by which Cu LSPR weakens the Cu-O bonds, reducing Cu2O.

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