Rational Catalyst Design for Selective Hydrogenations: Nitroarenes and Alkynes as Case Studies

Catalyst design for selective hydrogenations is of major importance for the manufacturing of fine chemicals. Catalytic procedure which uses scarce and expensive noble metals is very challenging in terms of exclusive attack of a single functionality or substituent. The approach taken in this thesis is based on rational catalyst design that calls on a combination of catalyst synthesis and characterization. This has been applied for the design of catalysts suitable for industrially relevant reactions, i.e. the partial catalytic reduction of substituted nitroaromatic compounds and alkynes. Molybdenum nitrides were selected as they represent a more sustainable alternative to noble metals, less expensive and easy to prepare. First, beta-Mo2N was used to catalyze the liquid phase selective hydrogenation of a series of para-substituted nitroarenes to give the corresponding aromatic amine. Incorporation of low amounts (0.25% wt.) of Au nanoparticles on beta-Mo2N enhanced hydrogen uptake and catalytic activity while delivering an ultraselective response. In a second step, the influence on the catalytic response of nitride crystallographic phase (beta- vs. gamma-Mo2N) and surface area (7-66 m2 g-1) was examined. Both phases promoted the exclusive hydrogenation of p-chloronitrobenzene to p-chloroaniline where the beta-form delivered a higher specific (per m2) rate; the one for gamma-Mo2N was independent of surface area. The inclusion of Au on both nitrides served to enhance p-chloroaniline production. Finally, it was shown that incorporation of N in Mo structure can increase nitrobenzene hydrogenation rates on Mo2N samples with higher nitrogen content. In contrast, -C=O hydrogenolysis was favored with benzaldehyde as a result of lower N content. As a powerful tool for tailoring metal nanoparticle morphology, colloidal methods were used to design structured catalysts effective for the selective alkyne and –NO2 group reduction. The development of a catalyst based on polyvinylpyridine modified structured carbon nanofibers on sintered metal fibers supported (4 nm) polyvinylpyrrolidone (PVP) stabilized Pd was shown to be an optimum formulation for acetylene semi-hydrogenation where the catalyst shows high selectivity (93%) and stability with time-on-stream. We have established that reducing agent does not play a critical role in catalytic response while steric (vs. electronic) stabilizers and larger colloidal metal crystallites are more efficient. PVP-stabilized Ni nanocrystals were also prepared via colloidal method and tested in the m-dinitrobenzene hydrogenation were an antipathetic structure sensitivity was recorded. TOF and selectivity to m-nitroaniline exhibited a marked dependency on the presence of the stabilizer. It was attributed to preferential adsorption of PVP on selective edge and vertex atoms, leaving the plane atoms free. Supporting the Ni nanoparticles on activated carbon fibers and removing traces of PVP by a UV-ozone treatment resulted in a dramatic increase in selectivity to target m-NAN even at high conversions. Two-sites Langmuir-Hinshelwood kinetic model has been applied to rationalize the results. In summary, this thesis demonstrates that the product distribution can be controlled on a nano-level by tuning the properties of the active phase through modifications of the structural parameters (allotropic form, composition), modifications on the nanoparticle microenvironment (organic ligand shell) and optimization of particle size.

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