Investigating sol-gel catalyst chemistry
11 Nov 2021
- Mathew Sims



Sol-gels are a way to create a small scale ‘framework’. So, imagine, if you will, a microscopic honeycomb. By combining optical trapping and spectroscopy, researchers have been able to shed light on the mechanism of catalyst synthesis itself.

 A photo of the heating cell, developed at the CLF, used to carry out the experiments.

​​The heated cell, developed at the CLF, used for the experiment.​

Mathew Sims | CLF/STFC

Combined optical trapping and ​​​​Raman spectroscopy

The researchers, from the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering at the University of Sheffield, and the UK Catalysis Hub in the Research Complex at Harwell, used a technique developed at the CLF’s Octopus Imaging Facility  alongside Raman spectroscopy to study the changing chemistry of an aerosol droplet over time.

Why it matters​? ​​

Catalysts are substances which increase the rate at which a chemical reaction takes place, without themselves being used up in the reaction. They are an integral part of life, being used in things like manufacturing food and medicines, producing fuel, and cleaning emissions from industrial processes and vehicle engines.

The process analysed in this research – aerosol-assisted sol-gel (AASG) synthesis – is a relatively new way to make catalysts which produces less waste than traditional methods. However, understanding how the process works is complicated by a lack of knowledge about changes which occur in the sol-gel within the aerosol droplets. 

Using this experiment, for the first time, researchers have been able to better understand the mechanism of synthesis itself. This valuable information will help improve the design of new synthetic approaches to the production of catalysts.

James McGregor (Senior Lecturer in the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering, University of Sheffield), who led the study, says the results are significant because they allow scientists, “for the first time, to see inside what used to be a ‘black box’ and understand the chemistry occurring during this method of catalyst synthesis.”

Leila Negahdar (Marie-Curie Research Fellow in the Department of Chemistry at University College London, and one of the authors) said she, “believes this contribution will accelerate the catalyst development for not only improving quality of our everyday life but for tackling the grand global challenges such as climate change and sustainable energy."

Find out more​​

Contact: Sims, Mathew (STFC,RAL,CLF)