Physicochemical properties of hydrogel template-synthesized copper(II) oxide-modified clay influencing its catalytic activity in toluene combustion
CuO-modified montmorillonite was synthesized by the template-assisted route. Poly(acrylic acid) was intercalated into the interlayer gallery of natural clay. Subsequently, various amounts of Cu2+ cations were introduced into the prepared hydrogel–clay composite using adsorption in different volumes of aqueous Cu(NO3)2 solution at constant pH = 6. The resulting materials were finally calcined at 550 °C (chosen using the results of TGA-IR analyses) to transform them into thermally stable oxide systems. The changes in the structural properties of the clay during the progressive modification were studied by X-ray diffraction (XRD) and transmission electron microscopy (TEM). Moreover, porosity, reducibility and surface composition of the calcined materials were determined by means of low-temperature N2 adsorption, temperature-programmed reduction (H2-TPR) and X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy (XPS). It was shown that a high concentration of CuO nanoparticles, which were well-dispersed and protected against sintering between montmorillonite grains, and weak interaction between CuO and the clay support (resulting in easy reducibility of CuO) were the most important features influencing the catalytic activity of the synthesized materials in the total oxidation of volatile organic compounds (VOCs).