In situ TEM observation of the Boudouard reaction: multi-layered graphene formation from CO on cobalt nanoparticles at atmospheric pressure
Using a MEMS nanoreactor in combination with a specially designed in situ Transmission Electron Microscope (TEM) holder and gas supply system, we imaged the formation of multiple layers of graphene encapsulating a cobalt nanoparticle, at 1 bar CO:N2 (1:1) and 500 °C. The cobalt nanoparticle was imaged live in a TEM during the Boudouard reaction. The in situ/operando TEM studies give insight into the behaviour of the catalyst at the nanometer-scale, under industrially relevant conditions. When switching from Fischer–Tropsch syngas conditions (CO:H2:N2 1:2:3 at 1 bar) to CO-rich conditions (CO:N2 1:1 at 1 bar), we observed the formation of multi-layered graphene on Co nanoparticles at 500 °C. Due to the high temperature, the surface of the Co nanoparticles facilitated the Boudouard reaction, causing CO dissociation and the formation of layers of graphene. After the formation of the first patches of graphene at the surface of the nanoparticle, more and more layers grew over the course of about 40 minutes. In its final state, around 10 layers of carbon capped the nanoparticle. During this process, the carbon shell caused mechanical stress in the nanoparticle, inducing permanent deformation.