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When using bifunctional core@shell catalysts, the stability of both the shell and core–shell interface is crucial for catalytic applications. In the present study, we elucidate the stability of a CuO/ZnO/Al2O3@ZSM-5 core@shell material, used for one-stage synthesis of dimethyl ether from synthesis gas. The catalyst stability was studied in a hierarchical manner by complementary environmental transmission electron microscopy (ETEM), scanning electron microscopy (SEM) and in situ hard X-ray ptychography with a specially designed in situ cell. Both reductive activation and reoxidation were applied. The core–shell interface was found to be stable during reducing and oxidizing treatment at 250°C as observed by ETEM and in situ X-ray ptychography, although strong changes occurred in the core on a 10 nm scale due to the reduction of copper oxide to metallic copper particles. At 350°C, in situ X-ray ptychography indicated the occurrence of structural changes also on the µm scale, i.e. the core material and parts of the shell undergo restructuring. Nevertheless, the crucial core–shell interface required for full bifunctionality appeared to remain stable. This study demonstrates the potential of these correlative in situ microscopy techniques for hierarchically designed catalysts.
A new closed cell is presented for in situ X-ray ptychography which allows studies under gas flow and at elevated temperature. In order to gain complementary information by transmission and scanning electron microscopy, the cell makes use of a Protochips E-chipTM which contains a small, thin electron transparent window and allows heating. Two gold-based systems, 50 nm gold particles and nanoporous gold as a relevant catalyst sample, were used for studying the feasibility of the cell. Measurements showing a resolution around 40 nm have been achieved under a flow of synthetic air and during heating up to temperatures of 933 K. An elevated temperature exhibited little influence on image quality and resolution. With this study, the potential of in situ hard X-ray ptychography for investigating annealing processes of real catalyst samples is demonstrated. Furthermore, the possibility to use the same sample holder for ex situ electron microscopy before and after the in situ study underlines the unique possibilities available with this combination of electron microscopy and X-ray microscopy on the same sample.
Specimen transfer under controlled environment conditions, such as temperature, pressure, and gas composition, is necessary to conduct successive complementary in situ characterization of materials sensitive to ambient conditions. The in situ transfer concept is introduced by linking an environmental transmission electron microscope to an in situ X-ray diffractometer through a dedicated transmission electron microscope specimen transfer holder, capable of sealing the specimen in a gaseous environment at elevated temperatures. Two catalyst material systems have been investigated; Cu/ZnO/Al2O3 catalyst for methanol synthesis and a Co/Al2O3 catalyst for Fischer–Tropsch synthesis. Both systems are sensitive to ambient atmosphere as they will oxidize after relatively short air exposure. The Cu/ZnO/Al2O3 catalyst, was reduced in the in situ X-ray diffractometer set-up, and subsequently, successfully transferred in a reactive environment to the environmental transmission electron microscope where further analysis on the local scale were conducted. The Co/Al2O3 catalyst was reduced in the environmental microscope and successfully kept reduced outside the microscope in a reactive environment. The in situ transfer holder facilitates complimentary in situ experiments of the same specimen without changing the specimen state during transfer.
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