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Issue 34, 2013
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The catalytic diversity of zeolites: confinement and solvation effects within voids of molecular dimensions

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The ability of molecular sieves to control the access and egress of certain reactants and products and to preferentially contain certain transition states while excluding others based on size were captured as shape selectivity concepts early in the history of zeolite catalysis. The marked consequences for reactivity and selectivity, specifically in acid catalysis, have since inspired and sustained many discoveries of novel silicate frameworks and driven the engineering of hierarchical structures and void size to influence catalysis. The catalytic diversity of microporous voids is explored and extended here in the context of their solvating environments, wherein voids act as hosts and stabilize guests, whether reactive intermediates or transition states, by van der Waals forces. We use specific examples from acid catalysis, including activation of C–C and C–H bonds in alkanes, alkylation and hydrogenation of alkenes, carbonylation of dimethyl ether, and elimination and homologation reactions of alkanols and ethers, which involve transition states and adsorbed precursors of varying size and composition. Mechanistic interpretations of measured turnover rates enable us to assign precise chemical origins to kinetic and thermodynamic constants in rate equations and, in turn, to identify specific steps and intermediates that determine the free energy differences responsible for chemical reactivity and selectivity. These free energy differences reflect the stabilization of transition states and their relevant precursors via electrostatic interactions that depend on acid strength and van der Waals interactions that depend on confinement within voids. Their respective contributions to activation free energies are examined by Born–Haber thermochemical cycles by considering plausible transition states and the relevant precursors. These examples show that zeolite voids solvate transition states and precursors differently, and markedly so for guest moieties of different size and chemical composition, thus enabling voids of a given size and shape to provide the “right fit” for a given elementary step, defined as that which minimizes Gibbs free energies of activation. Tighter confinement is preferred at low temperatures because enthalpic gains prevail over concomitant entropic losses, while looser fits are favored at high temperatures because entropy gains offset losses in enthalpic stabilization. Confinement and solvation by van der Waals forces are not directly involved in the making or breaking of strong chemical bonds; yet, they confer remarkable diversity to zeolites, in spite of their structural rigidity and their common aluminosilicate composition. A single zeolite can itself contain a range of local void environments, each with distinct reactivity and selectivity; as a result, varying the distribution of protons among these locations within a given framework or modifying a given location by partial occlusion of the void space can extend the range of catalytic opportunities for zeolites. Taken together with theoretical tools that accurately describe van der Waals interactions between zeolite voids and confined guests and with synthetic protocols that place protons or space-filling moieties at specific locations, these concepts promise to broaden the significant impact and catalytic diversity already shown by microporous solids.

Graphical abstract: The catalytic diversity of zeolites: confinement and solvation effects within voids of molecular dimensions

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Publication details

The article was received on 28 Jan 2013, accepted on 04 Mar 2013 and first published on 04 Mar 2013

Article type: Feature Article
DOI: 10.1039/C3CC40731D
Citation: Chem. Commun., 2013,49, 3491-3509
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    The catalytic diversity of zeolites: confinement and solvation effects within voids of molecular dimensions

    R. Gounder and E. Iglesia, Chem. Commun., 2013, 49, 3491
    DOI: 10.1039/C3CC40731D

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