Visualization of atomic scale reaction dynamics of supported nanocatalysts during oxidation and ammonia synthesis using in-situ environmental (scanning) transmission electron microscopy

Michael R. Ward, Robert W. Mitchell, Edward D. Boyes*, Pratibha L. Gai

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Reaction dynamics in gases at operating temperatures at the atomic level are the basis of heterogeneous gas–solid catalyst reactions and are crucial to the catalyst function. Supported noble metal nanocatalysts such as platinum are of interest in fuel cells and as diesel oxidation catalysts for pollution control, and practical ruthenium nanocatalysts are explored for ammonia synthesis. Graphite and graphitic carbons are of interest as supports for the nanocatalysts. Despite considerable literature on the catalytic processes on graphite and graphitic supports, reaction dynamics of the nanocatalysts on the supports in different reactive gas environments and operating temperatures at the single atom level are not well understood. Here we present real time in-situ observations and analyses of reaction dynamics of Pt in oxidation, and practical Ru nanocatalysts in ammonia synthesis, on graphite and related supports under controlled reaction environments using a novel in-situ environmental (scanning) transmission electron microscope with single atom resolution. By recording snapshots of the reaction dynamics, the behaviour of the catalysts is imaged. The images reveal single metal atoms, clusters of a few atoms on the graphitic supports and the support function. These all play key roles in the mobility, sintering and growth of the catalysts. The experimental findings provide new structural insights into atomic scale reaction dynamics, morphology and stability of the nanocatalysts.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)281-290
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Energy Chemistry
Early online date9 Sept 2020
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2021

Bibliographical note

© 2020 Science Press and Dalian Institute of Chemical Physics, Chinese Academy of Sciences. This is an author-produced version of the published paper. Uploaded in accordance with the publisher’s self-archiving policy.


  • Ammonia synthesis
  • Atomic scale reaction dynamics
  • In-situ environmental scanning transmission electron microscopy with single atom resolution
  • In-situ visualization
  • Oxidation reactions
  • Supported nanoparticles

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