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Interface Science and Catalysis

Contact: Peter Sutter

The world is facing unprecedented challenges in satisfying a rapidly growing demand for energy while reducing negative impacts on the global climate system and the environment. Any solution to these issues will necessarily involve the development of renewable energy sources, together with new strategies for efficient energy utilization and sustainable (‘green’) manufacturing processes. Interface science and catalysis already play an important role in all of these areas, but new catalysts providing improved reactivity and selectivity at dramatically reduced cost need to be developed to enable the required transformations of processes and economies on a global scale.

Nanoscience has the potential to fundamentally alter the approach to catalyst design from the traditional empirical methods to a rational design strategy based on a fundamental understanding of the relevant microscopic processes. Interface nanoscience contributes new approaches, tools, and techniques to rational catalyst design. The ability to assemble and characterize model catalysts with atomic-scale precision promises performance gains by discovering and exploiting support interactions, specific active sites, and size-dependent behavior at the nanoscale. Harnessing atomic-scale processes also requires recognition of the fact that key properties, such the active phase of a catalyst may depend on the reaction conditions and may be continuously modified in reactive environments, particularly if the active catalyst has nanometer-scale dimensions.

Our research program on Interface Science and Catalysis aims to discover and quantify nanoscale phenomena that can be exploited to boost the reactivity of future generations of energy-relevant catalysts, to enhance the efficiency of greenhouse gas capture and reforming processes, and for the controlled synthesis of novel high-performance materials. Our approach has two defining characteristics: a strong focus on heterogeneous catalysis-inspired model systems fabricated and characterized with atomic-scale precision; and the interrogation of these systems in situ under realistic reaction conditions. For investigations on functional surface systems in-operando under relevant environmental conditions, we operate a unique suite of instruments that provides imaging with high spatial and temporal resolution and chemically specific spectroscopy from ultrahigh vacuum to high gas pressures. Our further development of such cutting-edge experimental techniques and tools provides far-reaching synergies between our CFN-internal science thrust, our User’s Program, and collaborations with scientists at and outside BNL.