Synthesis-atomic structure-properties relationships in metallic nanoparticles by total scattering experiments and 3D computer simulations: Case of Pt-Ru nanoalloy catalysts

Binay Prasai, Yang Ren, Shiyao Shan, Yinguang Zhao, Hannah Cronk, Jin Luo, Chuan Jian Zhong, Valeri Petkov

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Scopus citations


An approach to determining the 3D atomic structure of metallic nanoparticles (NPs) in fine detail and using the unique knowledge obtained for rationalizing their synthesis and properties targeted for optimization is described and exemplified on Pt-Ru alloy NPs of importance to the development of devices for clean energy conversion such as fuel cells. In particular, PtxRu100-x alloy NPs, where x = 31, 49 and 75, are synthesized by wet chemistry and activated catalytically by a post-synthesis treatment involving heating under controlled N2-H2 atmosphere. So-activated NPs are evaluated as catalysts for gas-phase CO oxidation and ethanol electro-oxidation reactions taking place in fuel cells. Both as-synthesized and activated NPs are characterized structurally by total scattering experiments involving high-energy synchrotron X-ray diffraction coupled to atomic pair distribution functions (PDFs) analysis. 3D structure models both for as-synthesized and activated NPs are built by molecular dynamics simulations based on the archetypal for current theoretical modelling Sutton-Chen method. Models are refined against the experimental PDF data by reverse Monte Carlo simulations and analysed in terms of prime structural characteristics such as metal-to-metal bond lengths, bond angles and first coordination numbers for Pt and Ru atoms. Analysis indicates that, though of a similar type, the atomic structure of as-synthesized and respective activated NPs differ in several details of importance to NP catalytic properties. Structural characteristics of activated NPs and data for their catalytic activity are compared side by side and strong evidence found that electronic effects, indicated by significant changes in Pt-Pt and Ru-Ru metal bond lengths at NP surface, and practically unrecognized so far atomic ensemble effects, indicated by distinct stacking of atomic layers near NP surface and prevalence of particular configurations of Pt and Ru atoms in these layers, contribute to the observed enhancement of the catalytic activity of PtxRu100-x alloy NPs at x ∼ 50. Implications of so-established relationships between the atomic structure and catalytic activity of Pt-Ru alloy NPs on efforts aimed at improving further the latter by tuning-up the former are discussed and the usefulness of detailed NP structure studies to advancing science and technology of metallic NPs - exemplified.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)8122-8134
Number of pages13
Issue number17
StatePublished - May 7 2015


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