Inelastic neutron scattering studies of methyl chloride synthesis over alumina

Lennon, D. and Parker, S. F. (2014) Inelastic neutron scattering studies of methyl chloride synthesis over alumina. Accounts of Chemical Research, 47(4), pp. 1220-1227. (doi: 10.1021/ar400271c)

92961.pdf - Published Version
Available under License Creative Commons Attribution.


Publisher's URL:


Not only is alumina the most widely used catalyst support material in the world, it is also an important catalyst in its own right. One major chemical process that uses alumina in this respect is the industrial production of methyl chloride. This is a large scale process (650 000 metric tons in 2010 in the United States), and a key feedstock in the production of silicones that are widely used as household sealants. In this Account, we show how, in partnership with conventional spectroscopic and reaction testing methods, inelastic neutron scattering (INS) spectroscopy can provide additional insight into the active sites present on the catalyst, as well as the intermediates present on the catalyst surface.<p></p> INS spectroscopy is a form of vibrational spectroscopy, where the spectral features are dominated by modes involving hydrogen. Because of this, most materials including alumina are largely transparent to neutrons. Advantageously, in this technique, the entire “mid-infrared”, 0–4000 cm<sup>–1</sup>, range is accessible; there is no cut-off at 1400 cm<sup>–1</sup> as in infrared spectroscopy. It is also straightforward to distinguish fundamental modes from overtones and combinations. <p></p> A key parameter in the catalyst’s activity is the surface acidity. In infrared spectroscopy of adsorbed pyridine, the shifts in the ring stretching modes are dependent on the strength of the acid site. However, there is a very limited spectral range available. We discuss how we can observe the low energy ring deformation modes of adsorbed pyridine by INS spectroscopy. These modes can undergo shifts that are as large as those seen with infrared inspectroscopy, potentially enabling finer discrimination between acid sites. <p></p> Surface hydroxyls play a key role in alumina catalysis, but in infrared spectroscopy, the presence of electrical anharmonicity complicates the interpretation of the O–H stretch region. In addition, the deformations lie below the infrared cut-off. Both of these limitations are irrelevant to INS spectroscopy, and all the modes are readily observable. When we add HCl to the catalyst surface, the acid causes changes in the spectra. We can then deduce both that the surface chlorination leads to enhanced Lewis acidity and that the hydroxyl group must be threefold coordinated. <p></p> When we react η-alumina with methanol, the catalyst forms a chemisorbed methoxy species. Infrared spectroscopy clearly shows its presence but also indicates the possible coexistence of a second species. Because of INS spectroscopy’s ability to discriminate between fundamental modes and combinations, we were able to unambiguously show that there is a single intermediate present on the surface of the active catalyst. This work represents a clear example where an understanding of the chemistry at the molecular level can help rationalize improvements in a large scale industrial process with both financial and environmental benefits. <p></p>

Item Type:Articles
Glasgow Author(s) Enlighten ID:Lennon, Professor David
Authors: Lennon, D., and Parker, S. F.
College/School:College of Science and Engineering > School of Chemistry
Journal Name:Accounts of Chemical Research
Journal Abbr.:Acc. Chem. Res.
Publisher:American Chemical Society
ISSN (Online):1520-4898
Copyright Holders:Copyright © 2014 American Chemical Society
First Published:First published in Accounts of Chemical Research 47(4):1220-1227
Publisher Policy:Reproduced under a Creative Commons License

University Staff: Request a correction | Enlighten Editors: Update this record

Project CodeAward NoProject NamePrincipal InvestigatorFunder's NameFunder RefLead Dept
442801Towards a molecular understanding of deactivation issues in methane reforming catalystsDavid LennonEngineering & Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC)EP/E028861/1CHEM - CHEMISTRY