A link between reactivity and local structure in acid catalysis on zeolites

Aditya Bhan, Enrique Iglesia

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

184 Scopus citations


(Graph Presented) The extent to which spatial constraints influence rates and pathways in catalysis depends on the structure of intermediates, transition states, and active sites involved. We aim to answer, as we seek insights into catalytic mechanisms and site requirements, persistent questions about the potential for controlling rates and selectivities by rational design of spatial constraints around active sites within inorganic structures useful as catalysts. This Account addresses these matters for the specific case of reactions on zeolites that contain Brønsted acid sites encapsulated within subnanometer channels. We compare and contrast here the effects of local zeolite structure on the dynamics of the carbonylation of surface methyl groups and of the isotopic exchange of CD4 with surface OH groups on zeolites. Methyl and hydroxyl groups are the smallest monovalent cations relevant in catalysis by zeolites. Their small size, taken together with their inability to desorb except via reactions with other species, allowed us to discriminate between stabilization of cationic transition states and stabilization of adsorbed reactants and products by spatial constraints. We show that apparent effects of proton density and of zeolite channel structure on dimethyl ether carbonylation turnover rates reflect instead the remarkable specificity of eight-membered ring zeolite channels in accelerating kinetically relevant steps that form *COCH3 species via CO insertion into methyl groups. This specificity reflects the selective stabilization of cationic transition states via interactions with framework oxygen anions. These findings for carbonylation catalysts contrast sharply the weak effects of channel structure on the rate of exchange of CD4 with OH groups. This latter reaction involves concerted symmetric transition states with much lower charge than that required for CH3 carbonylation. Our Account extends the scope of shape selectivity concepts beyond those reflecting size exclusion and preferential adsorption. Our ability to discriminate among various effects of spatial constraints depends critically on dissecting chemical conversions into elementary steps of kinetic relevance and on eliminating secondary reactions and accounting for the concomitant effects of zeolite structure on the stability of adsorbed reactants and intermediates.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)559-567
Number of pages9
JournalAccounts of Chemical Research
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2008

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