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Structural modulation and direct measurement of subnanometric bimetallic PtSn clusters confined in zeolites


Modulating the structures of subnanometric metal clusters at the atomic level is a great synthetic and characterization challenge in catalysis. Here, we show how the catalytic properties of subnanometric platinum clusters (0.5–0.6 nm) confined in the sinusoidal 10R channels of purely siliceous MFI zeolite are modulated upon introduction of partially reduced tin species that interact with the noble metal at the metal/support interface. The platinum–tin clusters are stable in H2 over an extended period of time (>6 h), even at high temperatures (for example, 600 °C), which is determined by only a few additional tin atoms added to the platinum clusters. The structural features of platinum–tin clusters, which are not immediately visible by conventional characterization techniques but can be established after combination of in situ extended X-ray absorption fine structure, high-angle annular dark-field scanning transmission electron microscopy and CO infrared data, are key to providing a one-order of magnitude lower deactivation rate in the propane dehydrogenation reaction while maintaining high intrinsic (initial) catalytic activity.

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Fig. 1: Identification of the location of subnanometric Pt species within the MFI structure.
Fig. 2: Characterization of the chemical states and coordination environments of Pt and Sn.
Fig. 3: Distribution of Pt and Sn species.
Fig. 4: Percentage of Pt–Sn contacts in various K-PtSn@MFI samples.
Fig. 5: CO-IR spectra and CO chemisorption results.
Fig. 6: Structural evolution of K-PtSn@MFI during reduction with H2.
Fig. 7: Catalytic performance for the propane dehydrogenation reaction.

Data availability

All the data needed to support the plots and evaluate the conclusions within this article are present within it and the Supplementary Information, or are available from the corresponding author upon reasonable request.

Code availability

The codes used in this work for image analysis are available from the corresponding author upon reasonable request.


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This work was supported by the European Union through the European Research Council (grant ERC-AdG-2014-671093, SynCatMatch) and the Spanish government through the “Severo Ochoa Program” (SEV-2016-0683). L.L. thanks the ITQ for providing a contract. The authors also thank the Microscopy Service of the UPV for the TEM and STEM measurements. The XAS measurements were carried out in the CLÆSS beamline of the ALBA synchrotron. We thank Giovanni Agostini for his kind support in the analysis of XAS data. HR-HAADF-STEM measurements were performed at DME-UCA at Cadiz University with financial support from FEDER/MINECO (MAT2017-87579-R and MAT2016-81118-P). C.W.L. thanks CAPES (Science without Frontiers - Process no. 13191/13-6) for a predoctoral fellowship. The financial support from ExxonMobil for this project is also greatly acknowledged.

Author information




A.C. conceived the project, directed the study and wrote the manuscript. L.L. carried out the synthesis, structural characterizations, catalytic measurements and collaborated in writing the manuscript. M.L.-H., R.M. and J.J.C. carried out the quasi in situ HR-HAADF-STEM measurements and image analyses. C.W.L. analysed the XAS data. L.L. and L.S. contributed to the collection of XAS data in the ALBA synchrotron. S.R.-B. carried out the 31P NMR measurements. P.C. carried out the CO-IR adsorption experiments. A.S. and P.S. contributed to the experimental design and data interpretation. All the authors discussed the results and contributed to the formation of the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Avelino Corma.

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Supplementary discussion, Figs. 1–73 and Tables 1 and 2.

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Liu, L., Lopez-Haro, M., Lopes, C.W. et al. Structural modulation and direct measurement of subnanometric bimetallic PtSn clusters confined in zeolites. Nat Catal 3, 628–638 (2020).

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