Nanoscience and Microsystems ETDs


Eric Peterson

Publication Date



Platinum group metals (PGMs) are used extensively as catalysts, employed in several sectors of the world energy economy. Fuel cells employing PGM catalysts show promise as power sources in the proposed hydrogen economy, using alcohols as hydrogen storage media. Currently, the most economically important application for PGMs is for the mitigation of emissions from internal combustion engines via catalytic converters. In all applications, efficient use of these expensive metals to fabricate robust catalysts is of the utmost importance. Understanding the catalyst structure/property relationship is the key to the improvement of existing catalysts and the discovery of new catalysts. For example, catalyst particle size can have profound effects on catalyst activity, as in the case of gold nanoparticles. Catalyst particle size control and stability is also important for the efficient use of PGM metals and catalyst deactivation prevention. The challenge is to identify and characterize structural features and determine if and how these features may relate to catalytic properties. The ultimate goal is to simultaneously measure catalyst structural characteristics and catalytic properties under operando conditions, unambiguously establishing the structure/property link. X-ray diffraction (XRD) and X-ray absorption spectroscopy (XAS) are important techniques used for the characterization of PGM catalysts. Microstructural information such as crystallite size, as small as ~ 1 nm, and microstrain can be obtained from Bragg diffraction peak shapes in X-ray diffraction patterns, and long range crystal structure information is found in the intensities and positions of these peaks. In contrast, X-ray absorption spectroscopy provides information about the chemical state and local structure of selected atoms. From the average nearest neighbor coordination numbers, crystallite sizes can also be inferred, with particularly high sensitivity in the sub-nm size range. Electron microscopy complements information obtained from both XRD and XAS. With aberration-corrected HAADF, particles ranging from sub-nm-size down to clusters of a few atoms and isolated single-atoms can be routinely imaged. A challenge to the interpretation of these images is the characterization of mixed atomic species, in this case, palladium and lanthanum. In this work we show for the first time that quantitative chemical identification of atomically-dispersed mixtures of palladium and lanthanum in an industrially relevant catalyst (palladium on lanthanum-stabilized gamma-alumina) can be obtained through image intensity analysis. Using these techniques we have characterized the state of bimetallic fuel cell catalysts, ex situ, and have examined the state of Pd catalysts under operando CO oxidation conditions.


Catalysis, CO oxidation, platinum group metals, PGM, XRD, EXAFS, XANES, XAS

Document Type




Degree Name

Nanoscience and Microsystems

Level of Degree


Department Name

Nanoscience and Microsystems

First Advisor

Datye, Abhaya

First Committee Member (Chair)

Evans, Deborah

Second Committee Member

Brearley, Adrian

Third Committee Member

Guo, Hua