Selective oxidative dehydrogenation of propane to propene using boron nitride catalysts

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Science  23 Dec 2016:
Vol. 354, Issue 6319, pp. 1570-1573
DOI: 10.1126/science.aaf7885

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Boron nitride catalysis

Propene is one of the highest-volume organic chemicals produced. Propene has mainly been made from naphtha, but changes in the global supply chain are creating shortages. Direct conversion from propane, a component of natural gas, via reaction with oxygen is an attractive alternative, but existing approaches produce a large fraction of unwanted CO and CO2. Grant et al. report that boron nitride, normally an unreactive material, has high selectivity to catalyze the production of propene (77%) and ethene (13%).

Science, this issue p. 1570


The exothermic oxidative dehydrogenation of propane reaction to generate propene has the potential to be a game-changing technology in the chemical industry. However, even after decades of research, selectivity to propene remains too low to be commercially attractive because of overoxidation of propene to thermodynamically favored CO2. Here, we report that hexagonal boron nitride and boron nitride nanotubes exhibit unique and hitherto unanticipated catalytic properties, resulting in great selectivity to olefins. As an example, at 14% propane conversion, we obtain selectivity of 79% propene and 12% ethene, another desired alkene. Based on catalytic experiments, spectroscopic insights, and ab initio modeling, we put forward a mechanistic hypothesis in which oxygen-terminated armchair boron nitride edges are proposed to be the catalytic active sites.

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