Novel catalytic applications of carbon nanofibers on sintered metal fibers filters as structured supports

Supported metal catalysts are important from both an industrial and a scientific point of view. They are used, amongst others, in large-scale processes such as catalytic reforming, hydrotreating, polymerization reactions and hydrogenations. Often, these catalysts consist of nanosized metal particles deposited on a suitable support, which acts as an anchor for the active phase and, in several cases, contributes to improve the overall catalyst performances. The growth of carbon nanofibers on sintered metal fibers filters (CNF/SMF) by hydrocarbons catalytic decomposition results in a structured composite material presenting all the suitable characteristics for its application as catalyst support. The main objective of this thesis was to develop novel catalytic systems based on CNF/SMF as catalytic support for continuous gas-phase hydrogenations. At first, the synthesis of CNF/SMF was optimized to tailor the properties of the material for further applications as catalytic support. The use of ethylene as carbon precursor and high synthesis temperature (973K) provided high yields of well-ordered CNF with increased specific surface area (SSA), up to 516 m2/g. On the other hand, the synthesis of CNF by ethane decomposition, which is less reactive than ethylene, resulted in a support with higher permeability, minimizing the pressure drop and being more suitable in a continuous-flow reactor. After the synthesis, the CNF surface was activated by treatment with O3 or H2O2. A novel technique, which consist of XPS analysis after step-wise TPD in UHV conditions, was developed and applied for the surface characterization. It allowed to assess the nature of the functional groups created on the CNF surface. The O3-activation was found the most effective for increasing the acidity of the CNF/SMF surface, yielding a relatively high amount of carboxylic functional groups. These groups are important because involved in the chemical anchoring and stabilization of the active metal deposited on the support. Industrially, many hydrogenations are performed over supported metal catalyst. The majority of these reactions are known to be structure sensitive reactions, so the control of the metal particle size is crucial in order to study the catalyst activity and selectivity. We prepared monodisperse-sized Pd nanoparticles (8, 11 and 13 nm) via the reverse microemulsion method and deposited on CNF/SMF and activated-CNF/SMF for a two-fold study: the effect of the nanoparticles size and the effect of the support nature on the selective hydrogenation of acetylene. The antipathetic size dependence of the TOF disappeared at particle size bigger than 11 nm. The initial selectivity to ethylene (∼60%) was found size-independent. The structure-sensitivity relations have been discussed in terms of "geometric" and "electronic" nature of the size-effect and rationalized assuming a Pd-Cx phase formation which is known to be size-dependent. CNF/SMF supports with increased acidity diminished the formation of coke and changed the by-products distribution, diminishing the catalyst deactivation. Subsequently, CNF/SMF was applied to develop a new catalytic system: the Structured Supported Ionic Liquid Phase (SSILP) catalyst, embedding an active Rh complex. The selective gas-phase hydrogenation of 1,3-cyclohexadiene to cyclohexene was used as model reaction. The SSILP based on CNF/SMF supports showed a high turnover frequency, up to 250 h-1 and selectivity > 96%. Multiple advantages of supporting a homogeneous active phase, dissolved in IL, on CNF/SMF have been demonstrated: the thin layer of IL was homogeneously distributed over the mesoporous support, so mass transfer limitations could be avoided, furthermore the chemical inertness of the CNF prevented any interaction between the active phase dissolved in IL ensuring an efficient use of the Rh complex. The SSILP concept can be applied not only for the "heterogenization" of a transition metal catalyst, but also to obtain metal nanoparticles with monodispersed size via the reduction of a metal precursor dissolved in IL. In this case, IL provides a suitable environment for the nucleation and growth of the nanoparticles. By applying the SSILP concept to the selective hydrogenation of acetylene, the influence of IL on the stability of the nanoparticles was investigated. Moreover, the different solubilities of reactants and products in the IL phase allowed to improve the selectivity toward ethylene. Monodispersed Pd nanoparticles of 5 and 10 nm in SILP on CNF/SMF showed excellent long-term stability. The lower solubility of ethylene than acetylene in the IL had the beneficial effect of allowing high selectivity to ethylene up to 85%, due to the inhibition of its consecutive hydrogenation to ethane. In conclusion, a novel catalytic system for continuous-flow, gas-phase hydrogenations was conceived, taking advantage of the suitable characteristics of CNF/SMF supports. The SSILP concept, involving both homogeneous and heterogeneous active phases has been demonstrated, indicating a great potential and flexibility for continuous-flow industrial applications.

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