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Engineering catalysts with ALD

By Scott Jenkins |

Atomic-layer deposition (ALD), a surface engineering technique that applies layers of coatings in a conformal way at single-atom thicknesses, is being investigated for its potential to improve the selectivity and durability of industrial catalysts under a U.S. Dept. of Energy grant awarded earlier this year to Forge Nano Inc. (Thornton, Colo.; www.forgenano.com). The grant will advance the use of Forge Nano’s low-cost ALD techniques for surface engineering of commercial catalyst materials for a range of industrial reactions in food production, petroleum refining and petrochemicals manufacturing. ALD works by exposing a substrate material to alternating pulses of gaseous “precursor” molecules that react with surfaces in self-limiting ways (diagram). ALD can be used with substances from across the periodic table. In a classic ALD example, a surface with hydroxyl-groups is treated with gaseous trimethylaluminum (TMA; the first precursor). When the surface hydroxyls are completely consumed by the TMA, the reaction stops. In a second step, water (second precursor) is pulsed to replace the methyl groups, leaving a layer of aluminum and regenerating the surface hydroxyl groups for another round of layering, if desired. In this way,…
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