Heterogeneous Catalysts


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In this figure, four diagrams labeled a through d are shown. In each, a green square surface is shown in perspective to provide a three-dimensional appearance. In a, the label “N i surface” is placed above with a line segment extending to the green square. At the lower left and upper right, pairs of white spheres bonded tougher together appear as well as white spheres on the green surface. Black arrows are drawn from each of the white spheres above the surface to the white sphere on the green surface. In b, the white spheres are still present on the green surface. Near the center of this surface is a molecule with two central black spheres with a double bond indicated by two horizontal black rods between them. Above and below to the left and right, a total of four white spheres are connected to the black spheres with white rods. A line segment extends from this structure to the label, “Ethylene adsorbed on surface breaking pi bonds.” Just above this is a nearly identical structure greyed out with three downward pointing arrows to the black and white structure to indicate downward motion. The label “Ethylene” at the top of the diagram is connected to the greyed out structure with a line segment. In c, the diagram is very similar to b except that the greyed out structure and labels are gone and one of the white spheres near the black and white structure in each pair on the green surface is greyed out. Arrows point from the greyed out white spheres to the double bond between the two black spheres. In d, only a single white sphere remains from each pair in the green surface. A curved arrow points from the middle of the green surface to a model above with two central black spheres with a single black rod indicating a single bond between them. Each of the black rods has three small white spheres bonded as indicated by white rods between the black spheres and the small white spheres. The four bonds around each black sphere are evenly distributed about the black spheres.
Figure 1. Mechanism for the Ni-catalyzed reaction C2H4 + H2 –> C2H6. (a) Hydrogen is adsorbed on the surface, breaking the H–H bonds and forming Ni–H bonds. (b) Ethylene is adsorbed on the surface, breaking the C–C π-bond and forming Ni–C bonds. (c) Atoms diffuse across the surface and form new C–H bonds when they collide. (d) C2H6 molecules desorb from the Ni surface. Source: OpenStax Chemistry 2e

Heterogeneous Catalysts (OpenStax Chemistry 2e)

heterogeneous catalyst is a catalyst that is present in a different phase (usually a solid) than the reactants. Such catalysts generally function by furnishing an active surface upon which a reaction can occur. Gas and liquid phase reactions catalyzed by heterogeneous catalysts occur on the surface of the catalyst rather than within the gas or liquid phase.

Heterogeneous catalysis typically involves the following processes:

  1. Adsorption of the reactant(s) onto the surface of the catalyst
  2. Activation of the adsorbed reactant(s)
  3. Reaction of the adsorbed reactant(s)
  4. Desorption of product(s) from the surface of the catalyst

Figure 1 illustrates the steps of a mechanism for the reaction of compounds containing a carbon–carbon double bond with hydrogen on a nickel catalyst. Nickel is the catalyst used in the hydrogenation of polyunsaturated fats and oils (which contain several carbon–carbon double bonds) to produce saturated fats and oils (which contain only carbon–carbon single bonds).

Many important chemical products are prepared via industrial processes that use heterogeneous catalysts, including ammonia, nitric acid, sulfuric acid, and methanol. Heterogeneous catalysts are also used in the catalytic converters found on most gasoline-powered automobiles (Figure 12.24).

An image is shown of a catalytic converter. At the upper left, a blue arrow pointing into a pipe that enters a larger, widened chamber is labeled, “Dirty emissions.” A small black arrow that points to the lower right is positioned along the upper left side of the widened region. This arrow is labeled, “Additional oxygen from air pump.” The image shows the converter with the upper surface removed, exposing a red-brown interior. The portion of the converter closest to the dirty emissions inlet shows small, round components in an interior layer. This layer is labeled “Three-way reduction catalyst.” The middle region shows closely packed small brown rods that are aligned parallel to the dirty emissions inlet pipe. The final quarter of the interior of the catalytic converter again shows a layer of closely packed small red brown circles. Two large light grey arrows extend from this layer to the open region at the lower right of the image to the label “Clean emissions.”
Figure 2. A catalytic converter allows for the combustion of all carbon-containing compounds to carbon dioxide, while at the same time reducing the output of nitrogen oxide and other pollutants in emissions from gasoline-burning engines. Source: OpenStax Chemistry 2e


Flowers, P., Theopold, K., Langley, R., & Robinson, W. R. (2019, February 14). Chemistry 2e. Houston, Texas: OpenStax. Access for free at: https://openstax.org/books/chemistry-2e


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