Single-atom alloy catalysts: structural analysis, electronic properties and catalytic activities
Monometallic catalysts, in particular those containing noble metals, are frequently used in heterogeneous catalysis, but they are expensive, rare and the ability to tailor their structures and properties remains limited. Traditionally, alloy catalysts have been used instead that feature enhanced electronic and chemical properties at a reduced cost. Furthermore, the introduction of single metal atoms anchored onto supports provided another effective strategy to increase both the atomic efficiency and the chance of tailoring the properties. Most recently, single-atom alloy catalysts have been developed in which one metal is atomically dispersed throughout the catalyst via alloy bonding; such catalysts combine the traditional advantages of alloy catalysts with the new feature of tailoring properties achievable with single atom catalysts. This review will first outline the atomic scale structural analysis on single-atom alloys using microscopy and spectroscopy tools, such as high-angle annular dark field imaging-scanning transmission electron microscopy and extended X-ray absorption fine structure spectroscopy. Next, progress in research to understand the electronic properties of single-atom alloys using X-ray spectroscopy techniques and quantum calculations will be presented. The catalytic activities of single-atom alloys in a few representative reactions will be further discussed to demonstrate their structure–property relationships. Finally, future perspectives for single-atom alloy catalysts from the structural, electronic and reactivity aspects will be proposed.