Silica supported nickel nanoparticles are heavily used in industry to catalyse a wide range of hydrogenation reactions. The synthesis of these catalysts involves the deposition of a nickel precursor on the surface of the silica through either deposition precipitation or co-precipitation. The nickel precursor must be converted to metallic nickel via activation steps such as calcination and reduction to form the active catalyst. These are known to be the key steps that control the particle size, distribution and morphology; all of which are essential for determining the performance of the catalysts. The optimisation of these activation steps has historically been achieved experimentally with little understanding of the physical and chemical processes taking place, however this research aims to shed some light on the reactions occurring and the factors hindering or enhancing these reactions. It is hoped that understanding these processes will provide greater control over the catalyst’s properties and therefore its performance.
Transmission electron microscopy (TEM) is arguably the most useful technique for the characterisation of nanoparticles such as those being studied in this research but it has always had the drawback of requiring ultra-high vacuum conditions. New technology recently acquired by the group enables a small amount of gas or liquid to be introduced in between two electron transparent silicon nitride chips just in the vicinity of the sample. This enables the observation of the activation steps in-situ inside the electron microscope allowing the growth of nickel nanoparticles from a variety of precursors to be studied (figure 1).
Figure 1: TEM images before and after ex-situ reduction of nickel phyllosilicates (first row) and TEM images taken during in-situ reduction at different temperatures (second row).
PhD candidate under supervision of Prof. dr. ir. Krijn de Jong in the group of Inorganic Chemistry and Catalysis, Utrecht University, the Netherlands. This project is sponsored by the ARC CBBC as part of a bilateral program with BASF.
Project: “The Fundamentals of the Activation of Industrial Nickel Based Catalyst Precursors.”
Masters research under the supervision of Prof. Wuzong Zhou at the University of St Andrews, Scotland.
Project: “The Growth Mechanism of Ultra-large Zeolite X Crystals in the Presence of Triethanolamine.”
Three month summer internship with Illumina Ltd. in the surface science group.
Achievements: Developed an inorganic catalyst for the cleavage of DNA from the surface of the flow cells.
Bachelors research under the supervision of Prof. John Irvine at the University of St Andrews, Scotland.
Project: “Investigating the Exsolution of Nickel from a Tailored Perovskite for Catalysis in Solid Oxide Fuel Cells.”
Three month summer internship at the ENSC Lille in the department of catalysis.
Project: “Elucidating the mechanism of ruthenium catalysis of alcohols to aldehydes using DFT calculations.”