The stabilization of transition metals as isolated centres with high areal density on suitably tailored carriers is crucial for maximizing the industrial potential of single-atom heterogeneous catalysts. However, achieving single-atom dispersions at metal contents above 2 wt% remains challenging. Here we introduce a versatile approach combining impregnation and two-step annealing to synthesize ultra-high-density single-atom catalysts with metal contents up to 23 wt% for 15 metals on chemically distinct carriers. Translation to a standardized, automated protocol demonstrates the robustness of our method and provides a path to explore virtually unlimited libraries of mono- or multimetallic catalysts. At the molecular level, characterization of the synthesis mechanism through experiments and simulations shows that controlling the bonding of metal precursors with the carrier via stepwise ligand removal prevents their thermally induced aggregation into nanoparticles. The drastically enhanced reactivity with increasing metal content exemplifies the need to optimize the surface metal density for a given application. Moreover, the loading-dependent site-specific activity observed in three distinct catalytic systems reflects the well-known complexity in heterogeneous catalyst design, which now can be tackled with a library of single-atom catalysts with widely tunable metal loadings.
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J. Lu acknowledges support from MOE grant (R-143-000-B47-114), the Ministry of Education (Singapore) through the Research Centre of Excellence program (Award EDUN C-33-18-279-V12, Institute for Functional Intelligent Materials) and the National University of Singapore Flagship Green Energy Program (R-143-000-A55-646). X.Z. acknowledges support from a Presidential Postdoctoral Fellowship, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore via grant 03INS000973C150. S.M., D.F.A., and J.P.-R. acknowledge funding from the NCCR Catalysis, a National Centre of Competence in Research funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation. Jun Li acknowledges financial support by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (grant number 22033005) and the Guangdong Provincial Key Laboratory of Catalysis (2020B121201002). Computational resources were supported by the Center for Computational Science and Engineering (SUSTech) and Tsinghua National Laboratory for Information Science and Technology. We would like to acknowledge the Facility for Analysis, Characterization, Testing and Simulation, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, for use of their electron microscopy facilities.
The authors declare no competing interests.
Peer review information Nature Nanotechnology thanks Abhaya Datye and the other, anonymous, reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work.
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Hai, X., Xi, S., Mitchell, S. et al. Scalable two-step annealing method for preparing ultra-high-density single-atom catalyst libraries. Nat. Nanotechnol. 17, 174–181 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41565-021-01022-y
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