Combining theoretical and experimental methods to probe confinement within microporous solid acid catalysts for alcohol dehydration

Matthew E. Potter, Jonas Amsler, Lucas Spiske, Philipp N. Plessow, Theresah Asare, Marina Carravetta, Robert Raja, Paul A. Cox, Felix Studt, Lindsay-Marie Armstrong

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Catalytic transformations play a vital role in the implementation of chemical technologies, particularly as society shifts from fossil-fuel-based feedstocks to more renewable bio-based systems. The dehydration of short-chain alcohols using solid acid catalysts is of great interest for the fuel, polymer, and pharmaceutical industries. Microporous frameworks, such as aluminophosphates, are well-suited to such processes, as their framework channels and pores are a similar size to the small alcohols considered, with many different topologies to consider. However, the framework and acid site strength are typically linked, making it challenging to study just one of these factors. In this work, we compare two different silicon-doped aluminophosphates, SAPO-34 and SAPO-5, for alcohol dehydration with the aim of decoupling the influence of acid site strength and the influence of confinement, both of which are key factors in nanoporous catalysis. By varying the alcohol size from ethanol, 1-propanol, and 2-propanol, the acid sites are constant, while the confinement is altered. The experimental catalytic dehydration results reveal that the small-pore SAPO-34 behaves differently to the larger-pore SAPO-5. The former primarily forms alkenes, while the latter favors ether formation. Combining our catalytic findings with density functional theory investigations suggests that the formation of surface alkoxy species plays a pivotal role in the reaction pathway, but the exact energy barriers are strongly influenced by pore structure. To provide a holistic view of the reaction, our work is complemented with molecular dynamics simulations to explore how the diffusion of different species plays a key role in product selectivity, specifically focusing on the role of ether mobility in influencing the reaction mechanism. We conclude that confinement plays a significant role in molecular diffusion and the reaction mechanism translating to notable catalytic differences between the molecules, providing valuable information for future catalyst design.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)5955-5968
JournalACS Catalysis
Issue number9
Early online date17 Apr 2023
Publication statusPublished - 5 May 2023


  • alcohol
  • solid acid
  • heterogeneous
  • dehydration
  • porous materials
  • DFT
  • molecular dynamics

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