FRONT PAGES: Can Defects Make Inert Materials More Useful And Active?

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Newswise UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — A team of international researchers has demonstrated that hexagonal boron nitride, a material believed to be chemically inert but can be made chemically active. This could lead to a new class catalysts with a broad range of applications.

hBN can be exfoliated as in graphene (a two-dimensional material). There is one key difference between them.

“HBN shares a similar structure to graphene. However, the strong polar bonds among the boron- and nitride-atoms make hBN different from graphene. “Yu Lei, a postdoctoral scholar of physics at Penn State, was the first coauthor of the study published in Materials today ..

If hBN were chemically active, and not inert it would be able to have more uses, such as being a cost-effective catalyst support, similar to graphene. This could be used in practical applications such as in gasoline-powered cars or to convert carbon to reduce greenhouse gasses to other products.

” The catalytic converter of your gasoline car contains the precious metal platinum to process the conversions of harmful gases into more harmful gases,” Jose Mendoza Cortes, assistant professor in chemical engineering and materials sciences at Michigan State University. This is costly because it requires a lot more platinum atoms to perform the catalysis. Now imagine that you only need to put one or two, and still get the same performance.”

Platinum is also used as a catalyst for many other types of practical chemical reactions, and the platinum atoms that perform the conversion are usually on the surface, while the ones below are just there as structural support.

The key to the material’s chemical activity is the defects in the hBN. Researchers created tiny holes in the materials using cryomilling. This involves supercooling the material and then grinding it through cryogenics.

The holes are small enough to hold one to two atoms at a time of precious metal. Due to the reactivity in the hole-filled HBN, nanostructures can be created by mixing a metal salt.

“Boron nitride is inert and can be used as a support for catalysts. This is possible if you break down a platinum, silver, or gold salt into single atoms and then place them in defects on the boron nitride substrate.” said Maurico Terrones. He is also a professor of physics at Penn State and a Verne M. Wilaman Professor of Physics. “This is something entirely new, and that’s what we demonstrated here.”

Demonstrating this was significant, as it was previously believed that a material that is so inert could never become chemically active.

” The most challenging part of the project was convincing the research community that a material as inert and hBN can be activated chemically to become active, and act as catalyst support.” Lei stated. “During the process of reviewing our study, additional experiments that were suggested by the reviewers improved the work and help to convince the community.”

The experiments involved the use of high-end equipment in the Materials Characterization Lab (MCL), part of the Materials Research Institute at Penn State. The theoretical and computational calculations were performed at the Materials, Processes and Quantum Simulation Center Lab (MUSiC Lab) and the Institute for Cyber-Enabled Research, Michigan State University.

“We wanted to find out what kind of defects were present in the material and how we could prove that it wasn’t something else.” Terrones stated. “So, we did all these various very detailed characterizations, including synchrotron radiation, to demonstrate that what we had was in fact single-atom platinum, and not platinum clusters.”

Beyond experiments, the team also used modeling to prove their concept.

” “We proved and proved computationally as well as experimentally that holes can hold 1-, 2- or 2-atoms precious metals simultaneously,” Mendoza Cortes stated.

There are many potential applications for chemically active HBN, including cost-effective catalysts and energy storage, as well as sensors. Their technique could also be used to activate other inert material or other precious metals.

” “I believe we are showing that even inert material can be activated through the creation and control of defects on it,” Terrones stated. “We proved that the required chemistry occurs at the atomic level. If it works for boron nitride, it should work for any other material.”

Along with Lei, Mendoza-Cortes and Terrones, other authors of the study include from the Indian Institute of Technology Indore, first co-author Srimanta Pakhira, associate professor of physics. Study authors from Penn State include Kazunori Fujisawa (assistant research professor in physics); He Liu (doctoral research assistant, chemistry) at the time the study was conducted; Tianyi Zhang (doctoral candidate in materials science, engineering, and technology at the same time as the study); Archi Dasgupta (graduate research assistant, chemistry at time the study was performed); Ke Wang, staff scientist at MCL; Jeff Shallenberger (associate director of MCL); and Ana Laura Elias, professor of physics, research professor of Physics at the MCL); and Ana Laura Elias at the MCL at the MCL; Ana Laura Elias; and Jeff Shallenberger; Ana Laura Elias; Ana Laura Elias; and Jeff Shallenberger; Ana Laura Elias; Ana Laura Elias; and Jeff Shallinger at MCL; Ana Laura Elias; and Ke Wang; and Shallenberger; and Jeff Shallenberger at the MCL and Shallenberger; and the MCL. Cynthia Guerrero Bermea, a postdoctoral researcher, is one of the study authors from Yucatan Scientific Research Center. Luis M. Martinez (a graduate student in Physics) and Srinivasa Rao Singamaneni (assistant professor of Physics) are the University of Texas at El Paso’s study authors. Shinshu University (Japan) has Rodolfo Castro-Silva, an appointed professor in the faculty for engineering, and Morinobu Endeo, Distinguished Professor Emeritus.

The National Science Foundation partially funded the study. This work was partially supported by computational resources and services provided to us by the Institute for Cyber-Enabled Research, Michigan State University.

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