Microwave-hydrothermal synthesis and characterization of nanostructured copper substituted ZnM2O4 (M = Al, Ga) spinels as precursors for thermally stable Cu catalysts†
Nanostructured CuxZn1−xAl2O4 with a Cu : Zn ratio of ¼ : ¾ has been prepared by a microwave-assisted hydrothermal synthesis at 150 °C and used as a precursor for Cu/ZnO/Al2O3-based catalysts. The spinel nanoparticles exhibit an average size of approximately 5 nm and a high specific surface area (above 250 m2 g−1). Cu nanoparticles of an average size of 3.3 nm can be formed by reduction of the spinel precursor in hydrogen and the accessible metallic Cu(0) surface area of the reduced catalyst was 8 m2 g−1. The catalytic performance of the material in CO2 hydrogenation and methanol steam reforming was compared with conventionally prepared Cu/ZnO/Al2O3 reference catalysts. The observed lower performance of the spinel-based samples is attributed to a lack of synergetic interaction of the Cu nanoparticles with ZnO due to the incorporation of Zn2+ in the stable spinel lattice. Despite its lower performance, however, the nanostructured nature of the spinel catalyst was stable after thermal treatment up to 500 °C in contrast to other Cu-based catalysts. Furthermore, a large fraction of the re-oxidized copper migrates back into the spinel upon calcination of the reduced catalyst, thereby enabling a regeneration of sintered catalysts after prolonged usage at high temperatures. Similarly prepared samples with Ga instead of Al exhibit a more crystalline catalyst with a spinel particle size around 20 nm. The slightly decreased Cu(0) surface area of 3.2 m2 g−1 due to less copper incorporation is not a significant drawback for the methanol steam reforming.