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Abrading bulk metal into single atoms


Single-atom catalysts have recently attracted considerable attention because of their highly efficient metal utilization and unique properties. Finding a green, facile method to synthesize them is key to their widespread commercialization. Here we show that single-atom catalysts (including iron, cobalt, nickel and copper) can be prepared via a top-down abrasion method, in which the bulk metal is directly atomized onto different supports, such as carbon frameworks, oxides and nitrides. The level of metal loading can be easily tuned by changing the abrasion rate. No synthetic chemicals, solvents or even water were used in the process and no by-products or waste were generated. The underlying reaction mechanism involves the mechanochemical force in situ generating defects on the supports, then trapping and stably sequestering atomized metals.

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Fig. 1: Schematic comparing the different methods for preparing SACs.
Fig. 2: Characterizations of single-atom metal–N–C.
Fig. 3: Theoretical analysis.
Fig. 4: Extension to different supports.

Data availability

The data that support the findings of this study are presented in the main text and the Supplementary Information, and are available from the corresponding authors upon reasonable request.


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We thank M. Chhowalla for help and discussion. We are grateful for the use of the Pohang Accelerator Laboratory (6D UNIST-PAL beamline, South Korea). J.-B.B. acknowledges support from the Creative Research Initiative (CRI, 2014R1A3A2069102) and Science Research Center (SRC, 2016R1A5A1009405) programmes through the National Research Foundation (NRF) of Korea. J.-B.B also acknowledges the U-K Brand Project (1.200096.01) of UNIST. H.Y.J. acknowledges support from the National R&D Program (2020M3F3A2A01082618) through the National Research Foundation (NRF) of Korea. F.L. acknowledges financial support from Fudan University (JIH2203011). Funding for J.W., A.I.R., W.Z. and R.G. was provided by the International Partnership Program of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (121421KYSB20170020) and the State Key Laboratory of Catalysis in Dalian Institute of Chemical Physics (N-16-07). Z.A. acknowledges financial support (221777033) from the National Natural Science Foundation of China.

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Authors and Affiliations



J.-B.B. conceived the project and oversaw all the research phases. J.-B.B. and G.-F.H. designed the project. G.-F.H. carried out the sample synthesis and structural characterization. F.L. and Z.A. performed the DFT calculation. T.J.S., Y.-K.I., J.-P.J. and S.-J.K. assisted with the XAS study. H.Y.J. conducted the HAADF-STEM measurements. J.W., A.I.R., W.Z. and R.G. measured and interpreted the Mössbauer spectroscopy. S.-Y.Y. designed the scheme. Data collection and analysis were conducted by J.-B.B., G.-F.H. and F.L. All the authors contributed to the writing of the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Feng Li, Hu Young Jeong or Jong-Beom Baek.

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Supplementary Information

Supplementary methods, notes, Figs. 1–15 and Tables 1–5.

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Han, GF., Li, F., Rykov, A.I. et al. Abrading bulk metal into single atoms. Nat. Nanotechnol. 17, 403–407 (2022).

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