Active phase distribution changes within a catalyst particle during Fischer–Tropsch synthesis as revealed by multi-scale microscopy†
The Fischer–Tropsch synthesis (FTS) reaction is one of the most promising processes to convert alternative energy sources, such as natural gas, coal or biomass, into liquid fuels and other high-value products. Despite its commercial implementation, we still lack fundamental insights into the various deactivation processes taking place during FTS. In this work, a combination of three methods for studying single catalyst particles at different length scales has been developed and applied to study the deactivation of Co/TiO2 Fischer–Tropsch synthesis (FTS) catalysts. By combining transmission X-ray microscopy (TXM), scanning transmission X-ray microscopy (STXM) and scanning transmission electron microscopy-electron energy loss spectroscopy (STEM-EELS) we visualized changes in the structure, aggregate size and distribution of supported Co nanoparticles that occur during FTS. At the microscale, Co nanoparticle aggregates are transported over several μm leading to a more homogeneous Co distribution, while at the nanoscale Co forms a thin layer of ∼1–2 nm around the TiO2 support. The formation of the Co layer is the opposite case to the “classical” strong metal–support interaction (SMSI) in which TiO2 surrounds the Co, and is possibly related to the surface oxidation of Co metal nanoparticles in combination with coke formation. In other words, the observed migration and formation of a thin CoOx layer are similar to a previously discussed reaction-induced spreading of metal oxides across a TiO2 surface.
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