Reactive molecular simulations of protonation of water clusters and depletion of acidity in H-ZSM-5 zeolite†
Using reactive molecular dynamics (RMD), we present an atomistic insight into the interaction between water molecules and acidic centers of H-ZSM-5 zeolite. The reactive force field method, ReaxFF, was used to evaluate the adsorption and diffusion of water as well as to study the protonation of water molecules inside zeolite channels. The existing Si/Al/O/H parameters were refitted against DFT calculations to improve the ReaxFF description of interaction between water molecules and the acidic sites of zeolites. The diffusion coefficient of water in the zeolite obtained from refitted parameters is in excellent agreement with experimental results. The molecular dynamics (MD) simulations indicate that protonation of water molecules and acidity of the zeolite catalyst depend on water loadings and temperature and the observed trends compare favorably with existing experimental and theoretical studies. At higher water loadings, protonation of water molecules is more frequent leading to formation and growth of protonated water clusters inside zeolite channels. From the analysis of various reaction channels that were observed during the simulations, we found that such water clusters have relatively short life due to frequent interchange of protons and water molecules among the water clusters. Such proton hopping events play a key role in moving the protons between different acidic centers of zeolite. These simulations show the capability of ReaxFF in providing atomistic details of complex chemical interactions between the water phase and solid acid zeolites.